The Story of the War since D-Day,

as seen by an Artillery Officer, Lt. Sidney Beck R.A.

(the transcript of his letters to his wife, 10 June 1944 to 15 August 1945)


Sidney Beck, 26 May 1945, Stedorf

Sidney Beck, 26 May 1945, Stedorf


This text is copyright under the Berne convention.

All rights are reserved. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study, research, criticism or review, as permitted under the Copyright Act, 1956, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, electrical, chemical, mechanical, optical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without my prior permission as copyright owner.

© Benjamin S. Beck 2000–2023

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Place names inserted in Ms later, not on original letters <1997 note by Sidney> [shown in coloured text below, which indicates all the later insertions, not just place names]

June 10th 1944

Martragny & then Nth of Conde sur Seulles

. . . Despite all that has happened, I am alive and well and not a bit changed. As far as most of us are concerned, this is just another of the many exercises and rehearsals we did in England. The main difference is that this is far noisier, more tiring and more nerve-wracking than an exercise. I will try and give you in some logical sequence some account of things seen and heard. Of military news I can only say that I am serving with the 50th Division in Normandy.

As regards the journey over, as you know it was postponed one day due to bad weather. We actually set sail and had to return to harbour. We had a very rough crossing, yet compared with some it must have been quite a pleasant trip. It was an amazing sight to see so many ships concentrated in such a relatively small portion of sea. The Navy did an amazing piece of work in bringing us to our appointed place at the appointed time. I spent D-1/Day night in a hammock up on the bridge out in the open and was it cold!

The beach was packed tight with vehicles when we arrived and we had some difficulty in choosing a clear space in which to land. In the end, after all our apprehensions of landing in deep water and mines and obstacles, we had an easy landing. There were already some German prisoners on the beach, and some wounded. I saw one German help to lift one of our wounded gently out of the way of our vehicles. We were soon off the beaches and heading inland. As we drove up the road I had my photo taken while sitting on my vehicle by a camera man of the Army Film Unit, I am so hoping that it will be published in the papers or put on the screen, not for notoriety but so that you will know very early how I landed safely.

As we drove from the beach we saw 3 civilians who waved gaily to us as we passed through. This is a feature of all villages we pass through, the inhabitants, men, women and children all wave and look pleased to see us. They are also helpful in supplying information about enemy positions, as was to be expected.

Since our landing things have been progressing very well indeed. It is tiring work, but everyone is in very good spirits and we are all working together as a good team. We have had no time to appreciate the country, only to form the gradual impression that the scenery is very reminiscent of Kent, orchards, cornfields, wooded vistas, quaint villages. But I have been far too occupied to appreciate it all. We spend quite a good part of our time digging trenches and command posts. So far we have not had to use them, which speaks well for the protection given us by our Air Force.

We hear the B.B.C. news on our own sets (at least the men do, I hear it occasionally when I'm not busy at news time). It is a good source of information to help us appreciate the battle as a whole.

I mustn't mention casualties, but can say we are extremely fortunate. We are a little anxious about Mac who went off with vehicle yesterday and has not been seen since. However, perhaps he has had a breakdown.

I should like to have sent you a copy of the booklet on France issued to the soldiers on the boats. You would have appreciated its tenor and its generous attitude to France and her unfortunate situation. Each man also had a copy of Eisenhower's order of the day.

I cannot tell you yet about conditions in France, everything I have heard is rumour and hearsay, not substantiated. Perhaps later, when we get some rests I will have time to appreciate the country.

Yesterday a letter from you arrived. It certainly was heartening to hear from you and to know that mail was now organised.

I am writing this in a dug-out by the light of an inspection lamp from our vehicle (parked alongside). We are in an orchard, hidden under the trees. It is my night on to-night (i.e. I keep awake between 12 p.m. and 4.30 a.m. instead of sleeping during those times). Since we set sail I have not had 5 hours continuous sleep. I was awake and up at 4.30 a m. Saturday morning, and it is now 2.30 a.m. Sunday, and I have not had any sleep during this period. Nights are not always so quiet as to-night.

Things are going well, and the weather keeps good. I long for a bath, but water is precious. Food is in plentiful supply, but we do not have many facilities for cooking yet (nor much time to eat it).

June 12th

Nth of Conde sur Seulles

I am still alive and well, and a little more rested than the last occasion I wrote. Yesterday was a terrific day, with a ding-dong struggle going on not far from our locations. The noise at our end was terrific, what it was like at the other I dare hardly surmise. There is no doubt that the Germans are very determined but they do not stand a chance and it is only a matter of time.

We have not moved since my last letter, and are in the same cherry orchard. Yesterday I spotted a nest in the hedge near our post and on investigation found 4 tiny birds—some kind of Finch or possibly Red Wing, but I cannot place them. Their mother appears to have been frightened away by our firing. To-day it has been fairly quiet on the battle front and I managed to find time to examine them. They had all flown out of the nest and I found them at varying distances from the hedge, one just underneath a gun, chirping away in a frightened manner. I returned them all to their nest and tried to feed them. But they are not old enough to feed themselves. Managed to give them a drop of water from a spoon, but it seemed as though it were the first time they had drunk water. As it got on their beak and feathers they seemed to start, stretched right out to their full length and shook their wings.

To-night they have all gone, I am sorry to say. I was looking forward to feeding them each day, and wondering what names to call them!

To-day has been gloriously sunny and warm, but we are not allowed to sunbathe, spoils the camouflage.

To-day we received the first number of the Jerboa Journal, an Army News-sheet giving us details of the latest news here, at home and elsewhere. Included in the home news were two items, food conditions at home and the death of a noted Sheffield man, a famous choir and orchestra conductor.

There is still no news of Mac, and we have almost given up hopes he must either be a prisoner or a casualty. I have now got my batman functioning (Tydeman is his name).

Another shoot coming off, and food has just arrived. Somehow those two always seem to arrive together, and we are almost beginning to hate the sight of food.

June 13th

We expected to move on to-day, and spent most of the morning packing up and generally preparing to move. But the fighting was much stiffer than anticipated. We have been firing continuously all the afternoon and are not likely to move yet. This does not mean things are going badly, just one of those things that don't go according to the immediate plan, but turn out o.k. in the end.

June 14th

Things are quiet this morning, so far, so perhaps I can have a few consecutive moments to write.

Yesterday we had a lovely treat, the British Daily Papers for Thursday, 8th June, arrived, so we could read all about it. Pity the papers give the impression that only Americans and Canadians took part, but that is possibly because our War Office is a little more tight-fisted with news than the other War Offices.

We are all impatient to push on, and any delay of a day or so becomes irksome.

Have not yet had an opportunity to visit any places, although have heard from others who have been. Our B.S.M. went into Bayeux and reported it full of people, the town looking like a carnival town. People are queuing up to buy tricolours and the cafés are open again.

To-day looks like being busy, but then every day does just now. Sometime to-day I have to write to the relatives of our missing men. Not a pleasant job, especially as I did not know the men very well and therefore find it difficult to write.

June 15th

Things are very quiet here to-day and we should manage to get a little more rest than we have had for some time. Yesterday was one of the noisiest days we have had but it does not seem to have gained us much.

As far as we are concerned yesterday was a big loss. Ted was killed in action yesterday. His job took him into the front line with the infantry and naturally he had to face all their hazards too. We heard the news almost as soon as it happened, but had to carry on with our own jobs until the day was finally finished. I'm glad that you were able to see him and know him a little. He was a really delightful chap and had a sincere honesty that attracted you to him before you had realised it. We shall miss him later when we become more stable. At the moment we are still tensed up for the days ahead and each day is forgotten as a new one dawns. Perhaps that is as well, if we dwelled too much on the past one would not keep sane.

It is lovely and sunny now, and I am sitting in the sun on my camp bed. Things are very quiet to-day and personal maintenance is the order. I might even manage a bath sometime, but it will be difficult to obtain water. We have not had the trouble with drinking water that we anticipated, but perhaps that will come later.

. . . .


I did not finish this letter this morning as I had an opportunity of leaving the gun area to visit our vehicles, lorries, etc. They are parked around the edges of the fields of a large farm on the outskirts of our nearest large town. I discovered my suitcase had arrived safely and extracted a few items of clothing.

It was lovely to get away from the guns and see civilization again, even though I had no time to go into the town. Houses with shutters gave me my first impression that I was in France. There were a few refugees on their way to the town, a pathetic sight with their only possessions, with no knowledge of where they were going.

I had quite a good glimpse from the distance of the fine Cathedral, but had no time to study it in detail.

I have slept all the afternoon, suddenly feeling very tired. There has not been a great deal to do so I could relax. Some excuse for feeling tired, I have not had more than 5 hours consecutive sleep for a long time. To-morrow we hope to move, but even that is not certain.

June 16th

Nothing very much has happened to-day. We are still in the same place and do not show signs of moving yet. The weather has turned cooler to-day and showery and I have resorted to wearing a pullover again. We don't like it when it is cloudy because that is the only time the Luftwaffe puts in an appearance. Fortunately we have not been troubled, but he has been more active around us. But 99% of the time the skies are clear of enemy planes, which is a great relief to us all.

We have had no mail for two days, so we are quite disappointed. However, we guess it is because other things are wanted more urgently, so we are willing to be patient in a good cause.

Last evening we auctioned Ted's surplus personal effects amongst the officers and collected about £25 to send home. I bought two of his note-books as a keepsake.

Have not yet had an opportunity of airing my French. Am looking forward to a rest period for that reason.

June 17th


We have not moved, and the prospects of moving are still remote. The morning was cold and cloudy but this evening it is very warm and sunny.

One of our men heard to-day he is a father to a boy, and is pleased as punch. I announced it over our loudspeaker system and he was rather pleased and embarrassed all at once.

So they' ve told you supplies are 24 hours behind. Well, we won't starve, we took ample rations with us when we left the boats. We were supplied with 6 days rations on board ship just in case the Day was postponed. Actually we only used 2 days and we managed, against all rules, to pack as much of the remaining rations on board our vehicles as we possibly could. We anticipated a shortage sometime but so far we have had no real need to broach our spares (although we have done). The most useful foodstuffs were the tins of self-heating soups and cocoa. With the water shortage and the difficulty of heating things on the move we have found them a great boon.

There is a curious contrast in our orchard. At one end is a farm in which civilians are living, their cattle tethered near the farm. They carry on milking the cows and tending to the farm amid all the roar and noise of our guns. Have not had an opportunity of speaking to them, although some of the men have tried. They appear to have no chairs in the farm, apparently all taken by the "Boche". They sit on cuttings from tree trunks.

June 18th

People getting too drunk on wine

I have little to recall to-day. I arranged for parties of our troops to visit a nearby town to-day, but this afternoon it was put out of bounds. I intended going this evening but have been unlucky. Perhaps it is as well., I should only have made myself more tired than I am. We had a selection of papers dated from last Saturday to last Thursday, so keep abreast of the news even if in sketchy patches.

June 20th

I did not write yesterday, so I hope you have not been worried by not receiving a letter. It was such a foul day, raining and blowing all day and all night, with plenty of firing all day. We were reasonably dry, but I felt sorry for the poor infantry. Must have been a most trying day, and yet they did exceedingly well, but so did Jerry and we are still here but still very optimistic of the final outcome.

It has been better to-day and the sun is shining again this evening. It has been another hard day's firing but despite that I managed a trip into the nearby town and had a quick glance around. Could not stay long, so had no time to look inside its cathedral, which appeared undamaged. Managed a hair-cut, my main objective in town. Cost me 10 francs, the equivalent of 1/-d. Not trusting my French yet, so our conversation was very limited!

June 21st

We still have not moved, and there does not seem any immediate possibility of a move.

You ask me in your letter to explain the role of artillery in war. I don't think I am giving any secrets away if I say that normally the artillery supports both the infantry and the tanks when they go into action. The infantry and tanks move forward while the guns, which are stationed some distance behind the infantry or the tanks, fire on the enemy ahead and on either side.

So you will see that the guns will normally remain some distance behind the front line itself, the distance depending mainly on how far the guns can fire their shells. Obviously, as soon as the front line becomes too far away from the guns for them to give effective support, then they are moved up nearer the front line (unless of course they due for a rest). Obviously, too, we are not too near the front, in case the enemy should break through and overrun the guns before they have had time to withdraw.

There are certain artillery men and officers who have got to be near the front to observe where the shells are falling and to correct them on to the target. But they are few in numbers compared to the whole artillery. So far I have not had that job.

I have not seen much action or much destruction so my mind has not been affected in any way. The only thing that may affect me is the continual blast and roar of the guns. We live and work quite close to them, and the earth and air shakes when they fire. One keeps tensing one's body and nerves in anticipation of each blast. I often wonder whether I shall develop into a shell shock case, with nervous twitching eyes and screwed up face.

. . .

Well, I managed a good long rest since yesterday evening, 10 hours rest out of 13 hours was most heavenly. I certainly needed it, and now feel quite refreshed. Just as well, because I am expecting to be busy again very soon.

Do you remember Kenneth Swann, who was at the hotel at Bournemouth? Am sorry to say that he died of wounds yesterday. He was doing a similar job to Ted's. We have heard from Major Loveday's wife, who says that our B.C. is progressing favourably and hopes to be back in a month.

We are all beginning to be anxious about the welfare of you at home, now that the enemy are retaliating with pilotless aircraft.

June 24th


We have had no mail for a few days, as the weather prevented the landing of essential goods. However, things appear to be back to normal again which is a good sign.

My batman's name is Tydeman, pronounced Tidyman, which is rather appropriate. He is very efficient and nice. You' d like him.

Now to tell you a little of what I have been doing. In the first place we have had a small move forward, which has accounted for my not writing these last two days.

Our present situation is more exposed than before, but as the weather is deliciously hot, we are not really worried by the weather. We are in a cornfield close to a stream, and I have managed to have a complete wash-down, standing in the cold, running water. There were only cows to watch (what's the French for Shoo, they didn't seem to understand!)

Hottot with the 2nd Bn. Hampshire Regt.

I intended to write last evening but at short notice had to relieve Stephen Perry at the observation post. This brought me within half a mile of the enemy. Fortunately things were very quiet and static, and apart from some desultory shelling, nothing exciting happened. One shell landed near enough for a piece of shrapnel to land on our slit trench, about 2 feet from my head. However, there were no

Ted's body now moved to Lingévres.

casualties. I saw four prisoners brought in by patrols, two had given themselves up.

I had an uncomfortable night in a slit trench, no room to move and the hard ground causing the chief discomfort, although it became cold early in the morning. I was relieved at lunch to-day and returned to the position to have a more restful time (I hope). This afternoon our new B.C. (temporary) Major Corke, Bob Kiln (now a Major in Kenneth Swann's job) and myself went to Ted's grave. We placed in position a white cross with his name painted on and a post at each corner of his grave. Bob and I gathered poppies and daisies and wild flowers and placed them or rather strewed them over the ground. In the end it looked neat and tidy and restful, and Bob took a snap. We hardly said a word to each other, words weren't necessary. When we felt that everything that could possibly be done had been done, we each saluted and walked quickly away to our Jeep.

June 27th


My turn on night duty and my first opportunity to write for a few days. We have just been issued with Field Postcards which will help matters whenever I am too busy to write a letter.

I am well, still in the same position. Except for the fact that we have been busier these last two days and that it has rained all day to-day, there is little to record. Things have begun to move again on our front and reports show we are doing very well.

Please note my new address. B.W.E.F. stands for British Western Expeditionary Force. To answer your letters:–

Our meals do not vary much, for breakfast it is usually Tea, sausage, biscuits, margarine; Lunch is usually Tea, biscuits, margarine, cheese or jam. Dinner is usually Meat and vegetable stew, fruit pudding; supper soup or Tea and biscuits and cheese. Variations on that menu are boiled tinned bacon for breakfast, tinned sardines in sauce for lunch, steak and kidney pudding in place of the stew for dinner. But the biscuits remain the same, although they vary slightly from one make to another, We are not having any of the food you sampled, which was for consumption on D and D + 1 day only.

Since Ted's death I think they have learned their lesson and they are not sending our officers on such dangerous and almost unnecessary enterprises. Pity they could not have discovered that before. So perhaps Ted has not died in vain. Yes, I did like Ted very much. Of all our officers, he was the only one I really liked and really understood, and we had our own mutual understanding. I had looked forward to sharing experiences with him in France, but it was not to be. Bob is a Major now.

It is now 2.30 am. I am going to try and get some sleep for awhile, but it is not easy. We fire at night as well as day time. Now some more work has just come in.

June 28th


Since my last letter to you I have very little to report. It has been raining since yesterday morning, but is more fine now, with the wind still SW and huge cumulus clouds. However, I have little time to study Nature just now with so much firing going on. The offensive continues with great success, although details are rather scarce.

Our newspaper service still functions very well and we have had Monday's papers to-day. The capture of Cherbourg will mean a considerable difference in the situation very soon and it has been heartening news to all of us. So far, things are going according to plan. Except for the pilotless bombs on England, there is very little worrying us at the moment. We have managed to buy some real French butter and some Camembert cheese (not so pleasant as I had hoped!). Also yesterday we had some rich cream but it turned sour in the thunderclouds in the evening. However, mixed with raspberry jam, it tasted delicious, even biscuits were a pleasure to eat with it.

We have now got our Troop Library established, but I have had no time to read anything longer than a D.H. Lawrence short story. Concerts for the men have started in the neighbouring town, but so far only a few of our men have been able to go.

We have obtained 3 Magazines, printed in French, on the lines of the American Life magazine, called "Match". They are dated April, 1940, and make curious reading.

June 29th Midnight.

I am on night duty again (comes about once every 3 nights) and I expect to be interrupted many


times to give orders to the guns to fire. Most of our nights are spent firing harassing fire on the enemy to prevent them getting a good night's rest and to stop any concentrations for an attack. Last night was particularly noisy and to-night is no exception.

I was too busy to send you a letter to-day and had to be content with sending a Field Post-card. Just when I expected to have time to write to you we had orders to prepare to move We did not move in the end, but that's how it always is.

00.30 hrs. I have been interrupted twice already.

01.30 hrs Interrupted again. Have fired twice since 00.30. Difficult to concentrate. It is raining outside but we are quite dry in our shelter. Has been showery again all day with huge storm clouds blowing up in the distance. A very wild and stormy sunset.

Our small party at the Command Post has been added to by possessing a duck. We sent a small party ahead as advance party to prepare our new position. They returned with this live duck, one of many they found deserted in a farm. (They reported that the new area is surrounded by dead cattle, there are at least 3 in our proposed field. The stench is very bad, and we sincerely hope that we do not have to occupy that position. If we do we shall have to burn the carcases or bury them.) The duck is at present living in an empty ration box which has been lined with straw. It seems fond of Army biscuits, so we have found a way of using up our surplus biscuits. We are afraid, however, that by the time she is ready to be eaten the bird will be as tough as the biscuits!

02.30 a.m. Things are a little quieter now, but it is colder. We have hot tea in a flask and some biscuits and cheese to keep us going. I am on with one signaller, we take it in turns to sleep for an hour or so, unless we are both wanted together. He has just gone to sleep for the first time. Archie and another signaller come on at breakfast time, and all being well we two have a rest until dinner time. But we may move this morning, which will upset the plans.

There is little else for me to report. Things are still going well, and we are all in good health and good spirits. The C.O. is now back on duty and has been round on inspection, gingering everyone up. Naturally, he has ordered Blanco-ing whenever possible. We were issued with a quantity before leaving Romsey, but very conveniently lost it on the voyage over! Now we have been issued with some more here. It has caused more heartburns among the men than any other side of the war life, they all felt convinced that blanco had been left behind in England, in mind and in fact. Knowing how much I detested blancoing, I find it very difficult to order the men to do it, but that's one of the hardest parts of an officer's life.

July 1st

I have very little to report. We have not moved, and it does not look as if we shall need to (not for awhile, at least). In the afternoon some of the men went in to a neighbouring town (Bayeux) for a bath, and came back with an amusing description of the bathing arrangements. About 60 or 70 men go into a large room at a time. The roof is covered with small shower heads (roses), and at the word go from an attendant they all start washing themselves vigorously when the hot water is turned on. Precisely 7 minutes later the cold water is turned on and everyone has to get out and make way for the next 60 or 70! The men managed to get quite a decent bath that way, however, and look surprisingly clean.

We now have a chicken with our duck. We are hoping it will lay, but are rather doubtful. It was found lying in the road with its legs trussed and we rather suspect it was going to be killed.

I went to bed at 10.30 and had a very sound evening. Others tell me it was another very noisy night, but I did not hear a sound. Should have another good night's rest to-night. (STOP PRESS. Our chicken has just laid! Much jubilation among the staff. The Sergeant Major has "booked" the first egg, he found the hen and brought it here).

Don't let the news about "heavy fighting" depress you. That always refers to the infantry. It only means hard work for us, not actual fighting. All the while we are attacking there is little danger to the artillery. It is when you read of withdrawals that you can begin to feel uneasy, and even then not seriously unless it is a very sudden and costly withdrawal. As things stand at present we shan't ever withdraw, there isn't the remotest possibility of a withdrawal.

I thought I had mentioned our B.C.'s wound. He hopes to be back in a month. He was wounded by a sniper on D + 2 and sent straight back to England. We have a new B.C. named Corke, who is an exceptionally nice chap. I prefer him to our own B.C.

I feel flattered to think your Mother sat through the news at the cinema in the hopes of seeing my picture. Please explain to her that she, in the film, has seen a 100 times more of the war, even in that short film, than I have during the whole time since D day. That must be difficult to realise, but it is perfectly true.

July 4th

Salute to America Target.

1 Rd. per gun fired at 12 noon.

An A.A. gun near our position had been machine gunned by an enemy fighter & 1 soldier killed.


I'm so sorry you have had to be content with a lettercard in the last two days. My usual time to write is either on night duty or between 6 and 8 p.m., when usually I have expected to be free, but unfortunately the last two days I have been busy at those times. Now, too, I am on my own for awhile and find less time to write. Archie Birrell, my Troop Leader, has been temporarily loaned to A troop as they have been an officer short for some time. So I have to be on duty for much longer periods. I have a Sergeant to act as assistant. He is very good, but he, of course, hasn't got the same authority or responsibility to make decisions as I have.

5.0 p.m.

I have been busy with Administration ever since 2 p.m. and have had no chance of writing. Just as well, perhaps, because I have now received to-day's mail, which includes your letter and one from the (married) sister of the signaller of our Troop who was reported missing. (My letter to the parents was the first notification they had received so it appears I acted against official instruction. We should really wait until the official notification has been sent, but I did expect the news to get through more quickly than that.)

The enemy shells were landing within a ½ mile of our position

We have not moved since I last wrote, in fact we have dug ourselves in deeper and everyone now sleeps below ground level, but not necessarily under cover other than a canvas sheet or tent. There has been a certain amount of indiscriminate shells but nothing anywhere close to us, thank goodness. However, we are being prepared.

6.0 p.m.

It is now getting busier as usual, and there is still the mail to be censored and many points of administration to be cleared up. I was up at 3.0 a.m. to give fire orders, back in bed again at 4.30 a.m., up again at 7.0 a.m. Am hoping for a good night's sleep to-night.

Our animals have been increased. We now have 3 ducklings in addition to our duck and hen. The hen has been laying regularly but not the duck yet. The 3 ducklings were collected from a deserted farm near our proposed new gun position. They are all quite happy now and it is a most amusing sight to see them waddling round our vehicle and command post. The hen always goes under the vehicle to lay and it is sometimes most difficult to find the egg, especially in the long grass.

Yesterday we had boiled pork, for our lunch in addition to our usual meals. A young pig was killed by cows with calves in a neighbouring field and the farmer sold the pig to the B.C.

The weather does not alter very much, sunny periods with showers and a boisterous wind. It brings clouds and with the clouds enemy fighters, but not many of these. They have started a series of Rest Camps where a few men at a time can rest for 3 complete days. 2 of our men went off to-day.

July 6th


It has been a gloriously hot day to-day, but I have not had much benefit from it. I was asleep

all morning having had a busy night duty. This afternoon I have been attending unimportant little conferences. I have been hoping to have a bath all days having been deprived of an opportunity since my last splash in the stream. Perhaps I shall get one after the evening meal.

(Please excuse my writing these days. I have to write in curious places and cannot always find anything more stable than my knee to rest the paper on. At the moment I am writing in my hole which serves as our Command Post. I don't believe I have ever described my hole to you. You must know it, as I spend my working hours in such a hole at every new position.

It is one of many I have helped to dig in various parts of Normandy. It is rather luxurious as holes go. It is about 6 feet long 5 feet wide and 4 feet 6" deep with a step cut in one corner. For flooring we have the wooden lids of used ration boxes. For furniture we have two Officers Camp stools and an artillery-board-cum-table on which we do all our calculations. The ledge round the top of the hole serves as a telephone stand, a writing desk, a library, our filing system, our whatnot, and at mealtimes, our snack-bar. For covering we have a large black canvas sheet and at nights another sheet is hung all round the sides for black-out purposes. We have a southerly aspect (as the house catalogues say) but as the grass is very tall we cannot see much more than grass and sky. The hole is situated in the shade of a large tree on the edge of huge pasture and cornfield. I almost forgot. To complete the description you must picture one side of the hole with its alarm clock (the alarm doesn't work) let in into the side of the hole. Very neat.

Well, we shan't be in this hole much longer, but you can get a general picture of all the holes I occupy in future.

I have not a great deal more to record. Yesterday the enemy got a little nearer with his shelling and we had some shrapnel on the position. At night, too, we heard some bombs whistling down not far away, but nothing to alarm us. Altogether we have a pretty peaceful time and much to be thankful for.

Landed in the field between our guns and our Bty Command Post. No one hurt.

We have received about 2 dozen new paper books to add to our Troop Library. The Regt. received about 400 from the Army Welfare and Services Book Club. They are specially printed for the Forces and are all quite decent books. A varied selection of fiction, biography, travel and history. The idea is to exchange each set of 25 with the other Troops every fortnight. Papers are less regular and less in number now and I am more than ever pleased to see the Manchester Guardian and Time and Tide.

July 8th

La Belle Épine

I was too busy all day yesterday to write you a letter. Plenty of digging to do again, although my share was much smaller this time. It is raining now, but not unpleasantly so, the clouds are high and just dripping rain in the warm air.

I have not much news to record. Last evening we witnessed the heavy bombing of the area around Caen. At such times one has no doubt whatever about the final outcome, when so many bombers can be concentrated on a target without apparently any interference from enemy fighters. Of the destruction we could see nothing, but the terrifying pall of smoke that overhung the area for a long time.

Lingévres & La Belle Épine

The hen and ducks travelled with us and are quite happy again. The hen has built her own nest in a hedge and laid her daily egg and the ducks wander merrily around the field enjoying themselves now they have a stream very close in which they bathe to their hearts content. It's a most amusing sight to see them waddling along in single file. We call them our mobile camouflage equipment—if only we had a farmhouse too!

In our journey to this position we saw some of the smashed villages and houses in the battle area. Burnt out tanks on the roadside showed how fierce the fighting had been. We saw our first notice "Jerry likes to shell this area. Keep moving!" as we passed through a ruined village, with its church all open to the grey skies. The only civilians we saw were the occupants of the farm adjoining our present position. The people are very poor and the children incredibly dirty and ill cared for. The farmer himself seems a very poor type, but I cannot really judge. From another farmer we have obtained a fair supply of milk which is very welcome at night as a nightcap.

It is now 6.0 p.m. I am going to try and get some sleep before going on duty. There is still censoring to be done and a few other odd jobs before I can turn in.

July 11th

I will try to send you a decent letter to-day. We are engaged to fire a smoke screen at various times during the day and so there are pauses between our firing of varying lengths. This seems a longish pauses and I hope to get quite a lot written.

Don't think my letters have been censored when you see the corners cut. Nor imagine it is some secret code. Yesterday I finished the writing pad I had been using and went to the tin. where I kept the paper and envelopes you sent me in your parcel. In the tin I had also placed a small stock of sweets and chocolate as a stand-by when our rations become short. To my horror I discovered that on our last move the driver had placed my tin over the engine! When I opened the tin I found the notepaper and envelopes standing in a thick syrupy and sticky mass of boiled sweets and melted chocolate! I felt like throwing all the paper and envelopes away at first sight. However, having extricated them, wiped off all the stickiness and cut away the stained portions there is still a fair amount to write on. I have saved half the envelopes, but some of them are stained. I suppose it might have been worse, after all we are lucky to have all our personal kit, so many men lose theirs in battle.

You ask about meals, but you will have received the sample menus I sent by now. We have all come to want bread very badly, the biscuits make the gums and palate and tongue rather sore. But they are not really uneatable, in fact eaten with fresh butter they are really enjoyable. I think I shall miss them when we do get bread. They are very easy to eat at odd moments, and easily digested. On the other hand they have a most objectionable habit of breaking at odd places and at inconvenient times. Just when your appetite is whetted, just when the biscuit, laden with butter and jam, or marg. and jam, or cheese or sardines, or what have you, just when your lips are about to close over the "tempting" morsel, crack crack, the biscuit shivers into four or five pieces which go sliding down inside your battledress, stick on to your trousers or drop into the mud or dirt (always the wrong side up). We are becoming so adept at eating biscuits that we now expect them to crack and can manage to catch 4 out of the 5 pieces. The art is not to try to catch the 5th, be content with 4. If you try to catch the 5th piece either

(a) you drop the others or

(b) the others also crumble into 4 or 5 pieces and you are left with a handful of biscuit crumbs and a sticky mess of jam, marg., sardines etc. If only the planners had planned a biscuit that wouldn't crack unexpectedly or that would crack at specially prepared places so that we would know where to bite!

July 13th

I have not much to write about. It has been very quiet here to-day. The weather has been quite warm and sunny and I even managed a short sun bathe in a nearby field. It would have been more enjoyable if the flies had not bitten so fiercely!

We had bread to-day for the first time since D-2 and were we pleased to see it. Just two slices in place of biscuits, but it made a pleasant change. However, we are back to biscuits again to-morrow. Probably they don't want to change our diet too quickly, but more probably they have not enough yet.

There is a strong rumour, too, that there is a bottle of beer per man to be issued to-morrow. That will be certainly very welcome to the men – but maybe it will make them more dissatisfied? At the moment the only drink they have had, apart from tea and milk, is French cider., which is not nearly as pleasant as English cider (N.B. I have had less than 1/3 of a cupful of cider, even that I did not care for). The beer, I understand, is bottled. Thinking of the wastage of bottles and shipping space, I cannot help thinking there is something more urgently required than bottles of beer. I don't know, morale is as important as weapons, probably even more important. When a soldier sees his beer his reaction will be "Well, things must be going all right. if they can afford shipping space to bring this". It works both ways.

I was hoping for a trip into a nearby town to-day, but the prospects of a new spell of digging cancelled the trip. The prospects are still there, so we may be busier in the next few days. In our roles we are likely to be in action anywhere on the front where they require artillery. So you will have difficulty in knowing where I am at any particular moment.

(Pause while I obtain my sweet ration for the day). Once we get on to fresh rations we are going to miss our daily issue of 6 sweets and one bar of chocolate. However, perhaps the NAAFI will have been established by then. The tea cars are here, but we have not seen them yet.

To-night my troop has to supply a guard to look after a French farmer's potato field. He has complained that the troops are stealing his potatoes. I know for sure that none of my men have done it, but the Regiment is supplying a guard on the field to prevent any further complaints. It is rather annoying to all concerned.

Last night one of the men supplied me with some wild strawberries he had picked in the woods. They were delicious with a little cream.

Now I have the censoring to do. Have seen Monday's papers to-day. The "buzzbomb" still vies with the Invasion for the headlines. We are all itching to get on to remove this menace.

July 14th

It has been a quiet maintenance day to-day, hardly any firing. We had some excitement in the morning, when bullets began to whizz around the position. Things were quite hectic for a time as we did not know what was going on. Later we discovered that a neighbouring Regiment was having some small arms practice and the bullets were bouncing off and coming in our direction. It took us nearly 15 mins. to get in touch with them and get them to stop and things were rather dangerous then. However, there were no casualties and it gave us some practice in wondering what we would do in more difficult situations. We have made a very vigorous protest in the necessary quarters.

This has been mainly a maintenance day and I have got very dirty and greasy working on my vehicle. Also we have issued chocolates and cigarettes, matches, etc., the results of the arrival of NAAFI. The men had 70 cigarettes each at the price of 10 for 4d. (duty free – in England they cost 10 for 1/2d). There were only 4 pads of writing paper and 8 packets of envelopes. Last night too, the beer arrived. One bottle per man, approx. a pint for 1/6d. (15 francs). I met one of my drivers in the lane, a letter in one hand and a bottle of beer. "Look", he said, "a letter from home and a bottle of beer. I feel like fighting the whole German army singlehanded!" Notice he put the letter first.

As you probably inferred from receiving a letter of this date, I did not have to do any new digging to-day. Maybe at the week-end. The remainder of the battery arrived to-day. They brought us the latest news of the P-Planes, having spent an exciting night in London on their way over here. Pleased to hear that the people are trying to carry on with their normal lives, but it must be extremely difficult.

Yesterday Dick Greig paid us a visit. He is looking very well now and having a grand—but busy—time. He is now a Staff Captain at H.Q.R.A. with a nice indoor job, well behind the front line. He has his own private car to run around in and is generally enjoying himself.

It has not been much like French Independence Day here, we have seen no difference between to-day and any other day. No doubt in the back areas there were some displays and celebrations, but here it has been a normal working day. From what I see of the papers you in England, with all your information, know more about the progress of the war than we do. We are sometimes a little amused at the maps the papers show of where the front line is, but otherwise your information is much more complete than ours. The Division does publish its own news sheet still and we occasionally see an intelligence report. Otherwise we have to guess, like you.

July 15th

It is all quiet here to-night. There is distant gunfire with yellow flashes illuminating the clouds. A few enemy shells landed a mile or two away just about an hour ago and an enemy plane passed overhead without dropping any bombs. Otherwise it is a peaceful night and I am only disturbed by the moths and winged insects, beetles and spiders and daddy long-legs which inhabit my hole of a night-time! After having killed several of each variety since I began my night duty at 11 p.m. the place seems much more inhabitable. I have been reading the newspapers for the 11th July and also the Manchester Guardian which arrived yesterday evening. From what I read in the papers, all you in Southern England are having a much more uncomfortable time than we are out here. I'd much rather fight moths and be disturbed by Shell fire than have to put up with buzz-bombs, doodle-bugs, P-Planes are whatever they are called (flying bombs I think is the official description).

Things are so quiet here to-night that my signaller is sleeping on my bed. At about 3 a.m. I shall take over the bed from him while he stays awake. Won't be able to undress, though. I had a rest between 7 and 10.30 p.m. but did not sleep all the time. One piece of news, the identity book and pay book of one of my two men who were missing with Mac has been found and returned to our unit The identity book had a bullet wound through it. The wife of the driver of Mac's vehicle has apparently heard from her husband saying he is a P.O.W. and that his vehicle received a direct hit. There is no confirmation of this and still no definite news about Mac. The books referred to were found in an area which was enemy territory at the time the men were missing.

It is approaching 3 a.m. and I'm going to wake the signaller. He has a broad Lancashire accent, name of Barker and is quite a cheery youngster, very willing. We are usually on duty together, not by choice but so arranged that there is always an experienced person with a less experienced man on together.

July 16th

Fontenay, Le Pesnel

I'm much too tired to write you a decent letter. I just want you to know I am o.k. and that I received your parcel of books safely last night. They are very much appreciated, in fact I hope to read most of them myself (sometime). Yesterday was a very busy day, after my night duty. To-day has been even busier with more noise than I have ever yet experienced. There are so many shells flying through the air now (ours) you wonder that they never collide in the air. They come so close, too, one can hear them whistling overhead and one almost has to look twice before raising one's head above ground level!

As usual I cannot say where we are. A large cornfield doesn't help you (or the enemy) much, not much further forward than our last position yet some way away from it. Fortunately the weather is warm and balmy and the clouds are lifting now. Perhaps our air cover can show its real power, now.

I haven't managed 8 hours consecutive sleep for several days now, but hope to remedy that to-morrow when Archie Birrell returns to B Troop.

July 17th

I'm feeling much better since I wrote my last letter, much more rested. Archie Birrell is now back with the Troop and I have now got another officer with whom I can share some of the responsibility.

I was on duty from 11 p.m. onwards. Had been sleeping beside my vehicle from 7 p.m. onwards and was awakened by A.A. gunfire at 10.45. Quite exciting for a time; I dressed and ate my supper while the sky above was filled with tracer shells. Some bombs were dropped in the distance, none near us.

I managed to dose from 4 a.m. to 5.15 but was then awakened for firing and stayed up until 11.30 a.m. Then I have managed to rest until now – starting duty again at 6 p.m. until 1 p.m. I have been sunbathing on my bed, it is gloriously hot to-day with high cumulus clouds and a strong sun. It was too hot to sleep in my sleeping blankets so I just rested on top in my pyjamas and went soundly to sleep for a while, despite the firing. Now I'm sitting on the edge of my bed (actually on the ground with my feet in the hole dug by my batman).


Well, you would have been amused in those two minutes represented by the dashes above. I looked up from my pad and saw, a few yards away, John Craston, stark naked and washing himself in the full view of all concerned. He looked so tempting that I asked him if I could throw a bucket of water over him. he'd hardly said yes before I had a bucket filled and thrown over him, much to his relief and my enjoyment (and the enjoyment of the crew of an A.A. gun quite close).

(Another break. Sorry this is so scrappy. Tydeman, my batman, has just brought me a cup of tea, he manages to get me cups of tea at odd moments during the day and they are very welcome).

I have been glancing at the French book of Carol's and am finding it most useful. If I persevere I shall soon be writing to you in French.

There is a nice cool breeze now moving the ripening corn. From where I sit I can look over the top of the ears of corn. As far as the eye can see on the right it is one huge cornfield. On the north and east I can see a long line of trees which must be flanking roads as I can see huge clouds of dust swirling up in the track of moving vehicles. Dotted amongst the corn one can just see the tops of guns and tanks, the spurts of flame and clouds of dust as they fire. I don't know how to describe the noise, the succession of sharp bangs, each of a different note, the swish of the shells through the air, and the curious rustling noise from the tops of the corn reflecting the noise of the shells and the gunfire. In the sky high up on my right, I can see bursts of German A.A. fire and can just distinguish our planes. Sometimes we see the fighters flying low and slow overhead on patrol. Other times we see them dive-bombing the forward troops with rockets or bombs. Very rarely do we see an enemy plane.

All around, oblivious of the noise and battles little groups of men are resting, writing, eating, cooking, washing, reading. A few butterflies, an occasional bird and many flies are the only other moving things.

I'm annoyed, very annoyed in fact. I have just discovered that my last two letters have not been posted to you yet. I was not on duty when the mail was due to go last night and some incompetent person, instead of emptying the mail box and handing the letters in to the Command Post, handed the box complete without opening it. The people in the Command Post, busy at the time, put the box on one side – and forgot all about it! I'm afraid my temper almost got the better of me. My last instruction to my "staff" before I went to bed was make certain the mail goes o.k. (1 always try to get it off in time, for the men's sake as well as my own. Well, I shall have to do it personally in future, it's too important a job to leave to others).

July 18th

Another gloriously hot day. Dusty, hazy, with gunfire smoke hanging low over the corn like a November fog. Things are fairly quiet at the moment after a very hectic period last night between 10 and midnight. A few Jerry planes visited us again, dropped flares and bombs all around us but none close enough to do any damage. While the bombs were dropping and the A.A. guns blasting away nearly every gun in the neighbourhood was firing continuously with only slight pauses. The noise was terrific. The guns were getting short of Ammunition and we all had to give a hand passing ammunition. It was a case of "Pray to the Lord and pass the ammunition" last night.

This morning I woke at about 6.0 a.m. and could see from my bed the eastern sky, a glorious dawn with red patches of cloud against a yellowish blue sky. But it was not a peaceful dawn. The whole air was throbbing with the noise of aeroplane engines as wave after wave of heavy bombers, ours, flew over our front line, dropped their bombs and turned home. The drone of planes mingled with the explosions so that it sounded like an express train running through a long high tunnel. And this continuous noise went on for nearly two hours as later planes, American, returned from more distant targets.

In my off duty moments I have been glancing at a recent copy of Punch. There is a delightful article of somebody's on Sweets. It refers to chocolates being issued in bags now:–

"Life is not so easy now for those people who liked to spend five minutes hovering over the box, uttering to make it more interesting for the others, little cries of anticipation. Nowadays they have to take more or less what is on top of the bag, and so now more than ever it is necessary to think quickly and to remember that a square chocolate is either hard or soft, a round chocolate is either soft or hard, a chocolate peppermint is the one somebody else has just taken, and if there are three chocolates the same shape left at the bottom of the bag there must be some reason. One baffling facet of a chocolate-eater's life is that those who do not like rum chocolates have never been able to pick out any other kind!"

I am also trying to read "The Mysterious Affair at Styles" but it is most difficult to concentrate for any length of time, or get sufficient time to oneself.

We have had newspapers up to last Saturday, which is quite good. The evacuation of London seems in full swing.

You will have noticed my new address, and may know it stands for British Liberation Army. I should like to know what all the other Armies (the 8th, 9th, etc.) think of this!

July 22nd

St André

We have been having a quiet time for the last two days and should have a quiet time for another few days. But it has been by no means a slack time and I have been busier in these last I few days than for quite a time. Mainly administration and organisation.

We have moved since I last wrote. As usual it was a sudden move and I had planned to write to you just when we received orders to move! During this move several unfortunate circumstances arose. On our journey to our present position our vehicles had to cross a deep stream with deep sloping banks. Many other vehicles had already passed that way especially that day. It was just beginning to rain. All the other vehicles the same type as mine were diverted from the stream and sent round by road. But, and words fall me, my vehicle happened to be the last of the convoy and my C.O. decided he would like to see my vehicle cross the stream if possible. He said there was a bet of 10 to 1 against us crossing the stream and he thought it was possible for a vehicle similar to mine to cross. And just to prove he was right he wanted me to take my vehicle through the water. It was an order and had to be obeyed.

We managed the descent, we crossed the stream with water just lapping over the sides of the vehicle, we began climbing the steep bank on the other side. And then we stuck. The previous vehicles had cut deep grooves in the mud and we stuck on the earth between the grooves and couldn't go forward or back.

The vehicle in front had waited for us and gave us a chain to tow us out. The chain snapped! By this time—the vehicle no longer waterproofed since D day—was letting in water at a fast rate. The driver and I, coping with the wireless, the engines, the two chains, our personal kit and endeavouring to stem the rising tide. Another chain snapped. In the end we had two chains and two vehicles to tow us out but by that time the water had risen over the top of the engine, which had ceased to function. We were hauled to the bank and stayed there. By this time it was pouring with rain. We transferred as much kit as we could to the other vehicles and left the driver and a mechanic to start the engine of my vehicle.

I had to go back for my vehicle. By the good work and determination of the mechanic he got the engine dried and water out of the system sufficiently well for us to drive the vehicle back to our new resting place at 10 p.m. But our kits were wet with mud (fortunately most of my clothes and blankets were on another vehicle). The following day and to-day it rained in the morning.

So everyone has been pretty miserable all round. Now, of course, we are in the process of changing all our equipment into a different vehicle, with the consequent disorganisation. A day's warm sunshine will soon put things right.

I managed a hot shower this morning. A real Army success is the mobile laundry and bath unit. We bathed, 50 at a time, in a large marquee. Water was pumped from a stream, passed through a boiler and then by pipes to showers. Not much water, but enough to get a good washdown. Afterwards we were all issued with a clean shirt, pants and towel. All the dirty clothing was washed on the spot by the laundry unit and will be released to subsequent bathers if still serviceable. It takes about an hour to wash and dry an article.

We have a Church parade tomorrow and then we hope to have the day free (Jerry willing). Have not heard the news or read a paper recently, but have heard vague reports of an attempt on Hitler's life, and that Germany is seeking peace terms. All very confusing and I am eagerly looking forward to hearing definite news.

July 23rd


We had a Church parade this morning, followed by an inspection by the Corps Commander R.A. This afternoon I arranged a trip to see a football match to give the men a break, and of course had to go with it myself. The most amusing thing was a rabbit incident. The ball went out of the ground and disturbed a rabbit. The rabbit dashed across the field and all the players forgot the game to chase the poor rabbit. It twisted and turned all over the field leaving a trail of players lying prone on the ground where they had dived after it.

In the end it made a bolt for the crowd but was caught by one of the spectators much to the delight of all concerned. Some lucky soldier is having rabbit to-night.

(Incidentally, we are having our ducks to-night. We have had to kill them, they were getting us into difficulties in more ways than one!)

The spectators at the game included a number of French people. One man told us that the Germans had played football there but always between themselves. This particular game was between an Army XI and a French team—and the French team won 10-3. Everyone was pleased at the result, including all the Service spectators, many of whom were cheering on the French team.

The Church Parade this morning was a Memorial Service, and I felt obliged to attend. Curious that the only time Ted managed to get me to attend Church Parade was to attend his memorial service . . .

The Officers' shop arrived to-day. I got most of the things I wanted.

July 25th

Do you remember my book "From the Greek", the thin papered volume of Greek Verse in translation? When my vehicle was "drowned" recently, that book somehow got ruined with water and then oil and paraffin. I almost threw it away, all the pages stuck together, impregnated with paraffin and entirely transparent. One of my Sergeants suggested soaking the book in petrol. It was worth experimenting so I left the book in a flat tin of petrol overnight. To-day I left the book in the sun to dry and it looks as though it will be almost new again after it is finally dry. It is at least readable.

I have now a different vehicle to ride about in, a halftrack American machine. You may have seen some at Bournemouth. It is more comfortable and more satisfactory then any other machine we have yet had.

The quiet period continues and as yet we cannot see when it is going to end. We even managed a game of hockey this afternoon amongst Batteries. Unfortunately our team lost 14-0 but that did not matter. We were playing on a piece of waste ground and the ball just bounced anywhere.

This evening I have to take a party from the Regiment to see a show, don't know yet whether it is a film or a stage show. Whatever it is it will make a break.

Last evening a Major from an Infantry Battalion came and visited us and told us some interesting stories of his experiences since D-day.

July 26th

You ask why we left part of the Battery in England. a) there wasn't room in the first few days allotment of shipping space, b) they were kept behind as a reserves etc. Incidentally, did I tell you that Barringer has been discharged from the Army on medical grounds. You know I told you we sold Ted's effects? The executors have donated the amount (about £30) to A Troop Welfare Fund.

To-day is the first opportunity I have had 3 consecutive hours to write without being disturbed for work or detailed to take parties on various outings, jobs, etc.

The concert last night, in a quaint, tiny, municipal theatre, was quite enjoyable. It was an ENSA show, a small concert party of 3 men and 3 women, mainly musical with a conjuror-cum-ventriloquist-cum-comedian who was an excellent entertainer. The jokes kept on quite a high level and the man who got the biggest applause was the pianist who played selections from popular operas, overtures, etc. The concert was rather spoiled for me. I was in charge of the party of 50 men who had tickets reserved for them. That was all right, but the C.O. and the C.O.2 decided to come and I had to share a box with them.

When we came out of the theatre there was quite a crowd of people in the Market place listening to the News in French from London re-broadcast by the Fighting French van. I listened for a while, and gathered little bits of the news, but it was too quick and the reception was not clear enough for my untrained ear. I have been too busy to do much French recently, but am trying to learn a few new words each day. Despite the routine of Army life it is difficult for an officer to get any routine in his private life, as Army life impinges too sharply on the whole 24 hours.

It is 7 p.m. and the sun has almost disappeared behind the trees. I have had my tea since beginning this letter (baked beans, bread—2 slices—margarine jams and biscuit—not exactly thrilling!).

Archie Birrell has just heard from his fiancée. She has accepted his offer to become engaged, and they are going to announce it on August 5th (his sister's wedding day). His fiancée is in the W.L.A. on a farm in Dorset, driving a tractor.

Stephen has just received a set of patience cards, and donated them to the Command Post.

The quiet period should continue till the weekend.

July 29th

This has been another quiet day. To-morrow looks like bringing us more digging and I expect it will be a boiling hot day. We received fresh rations to-day for the first time, and they were thoroughly enjoyed. Beef, peas and potatoes followed by rice (not tinned rice). Also bread. Yesterday's papers, too, arrived to-day, which is excellent.

July 31st

Nr Caumont

You must be worrying what is happening to me. I'm sorry you have had to be content with field postcards for the last few days, but things have been all against letter writing and it was all I could do to find time to write a card.

You may have gathered from my previous letters that we were having a rest. We went out of the line for 3 days to begin with and this gradually extended into a week. It was not exactly a rest, really a period of maintenance and reorganization—for the men it meant a period of spit and polish, and most of them were quite pleased when we returned to the front line.

It was certainly not a rest for the officers, as you may have gathered from my letters. We had plenty of administrative work to consider and of course the men to look after as usual, their work and their recreation. So you were not free to rest as you wished.

(This rest is something quite different from the real rest camp to which we send a few men at a time. This was a resting of the whole Regt. for reorganisation).

We managed a few trips into the neighbouring town but always I had to be in charge of a party and so therefore not free to do as I liked.

We went into action immediately after the reorganisation had been completed and it was then that our time became too busy for me to write. We had one move after another, this time forward where the line was moving forward. This was very cheering as for quite a time we have been moving to and fro, behind the front line. So we are all very pleased to know things are going so well that we can advance. The Americans further over are doing very well indeed and we hope soon to feel the benefit of their advance.

The weather now is lovely and warm with cool evenings and mornings. We are now in another cornfield in a valley dotted with trees and woods. For all I know I might be in Kent from the look of the country but the soldiers and equipment all around me remind me only too well that England is quite a long way away. The men are from the county adjoining the county in which we spent our honeymoon.

Tilly (sometimes called Sally) our hen is still with us but the ducks are no more. Tilly still lays her daily egg, and it was my turn for the egg this morning! She is being most difficult as she lays her eggs in the most peculiar places and it often takes Tydeman quite a time to find the egg, especially if she wanders off into the corn. She always comes back, but we have to keep an eye on her with all the other men around!

The ducks had to be killed. The C.O. spotted them one day on inspection despite the fact they were hidden under a camouflage net: He did not exactly accuse us of looting but hinted that was his opinion, and there were hints of enquiries and courts-martial, etc. I suppose in theory it must come under the heading of looting, but in practice it amounts to rescuing. When we found the ducks in a deserted village near the front line, they were thin and scraggy and wandering loose. They would almost certainly have died of starvation or met an untimely death if we had not caught them and looked after them.

However, orders are orders, so the ducks went and were thoroughly enjoyed by all. The hen we claim as legitimate, having been found in a lane with its legs trussed together and no apparent owner.

(Pause while I eat my evening meal. Fresh beef, potatoes, haricot beans all flavoured with onions—the onions come as dried leaves like petals. The third day in succession that we have had rice. If this continues the men will want their compo rations again, as they get puddings with them—"duff" as they call it!)

Have just heard there is a possibility of another move this evening. If so, there will be plenty of rushing around soon, so I had better get the letters censored.

August 2nd

South of Caumont

I did not write yesterday being very tired and busy after the move. We did not move until late evening, then had to wait until early morning to finish the move. So we did not get very much sleep that night. Digging in this heat, too, is very tiring, but I do not do as much digging as the rest. I like to do my fair share but there are usually many little jobs for me to supervise when we move. It's like moving one's house and rebuilding it every day. Fortunately our covering is canvas and easy to move around.

We do not see many towns when we move, we try to avoid them whenever possible owing to congestion and destruction of buildings.

Jerry still pays us visits each night but mainly just single raiders on the back areas.

We are at present in a small pasture field just behind a large farm. The farm buildings are in ruins but the house itself has suffered little damage. Inside there are still all the trimmings and trappings of a farm house., with the wall clock still ticking and chiming the hours. The barn containing 3 huge cider vats is littered with small articles of clothing, books, papers etc., and the whole place smells of cider. No doubt both Jerry and us have had our full share of the cider.

There is a dead cow in our field, quite close to our Command post. We shall be glad when we move. Another cow is wounded and I have been trying, without success, to get a vet to come and attend to it. We shall be glad when we do move from here.

I'm writing this in the back of my vehicle, sitting on the back step. We have a hinged door at the back which gives the truck a caravan effect. It looks more like a caravan inside with a table fitted on one side and a cage the other to carry our blankets, etc. At night I sleep in it (when I get any time to sleep, that is). It makes quite a good sleeping place except that the floor, which is metal, is very hard and when I wake in the morning my spine and hips are sore! At the moment I'm defying all regulations by sitting in the sun minus my shirt and vest. I'm trying to get well browned, but it is a slow process, but very pleasant.

August 4th


Yesterday was a nightmare, and I hope we don't get another such. War came to our front door, or rather we went to the war's front door and Jerry pushed it open suddenly with a bang. I'm afraid I cannot tell you the story now. We had a few casualties, one killed instantly, the others not very serious wounds. I am o.k. myself, but it was a nerve-wracking experience. <We had a hurried move and I did not go with the Advance party to see the site allocated for our new gun position. This was an open field on a down slope facing grassland rising several feet to a line of small trees. The Survey Officer indicated that the enemy were just beyond the line of trees on the crest of the field in front, but there was no activity to be seen at the present time. My guns took up their positions in a straight line facing the line of the crest and began to dig slit trenches behind each gun. Captain Perry, who had not been allocated to man a forward Observation post, began a tour of the gun site and keeping an eye on the crest in front. He suddenly let out a cry, jumped to the gun nearest to him and began directing it at some movement he had seen among the trees on the far crest. An enemy shell landed a little short of our line of guns and Captain Perry fired in reply. Guns from other Batteries were alerted and the enemy gun beat a hasty retreat.>[Typed from memory by Sidney . . . 21 Oct 1997 . . . . . .] We had to withdraw a little way to get under cover from observation. Since them we have been quite safe. But the advance continues, and we shall be moving on again very soon. It was a most tiring day yesterday and I got no sleep for 24 hours. However, I managed about 5 hours this lunch time and am not feeling too bad. The weather is still fine and hot and we have not been too busy today. So please don't worry about me. I can look after myself. If I can survive yesterday's affair I can survive most things. No. it was not as bad as that, but it seemed very bad in comparison with our previous immunity from retaliation.

August 5th

W. of Mt. Pinion

This will be a short note, I'm afraid. Everything is against letter writing these days.

I'm still very well, but still very tired. We moved in a hurry last evening as we heard the enemy were pulling out and we were going after him. We advance quite a good bit all night. Fortunately it was bright moonlight. We have been halted temporarily since lunch times and look like staying the night. But it has meant for me about 45 hours duty out of 48. 1 suppose I shall make up for it one day. We do get occasional moments to close our eyes, but it is impossible to sleep. However, we want to advance, and we are willing to put up with the inconveniences.

Incidentally, this note paper is captured German note-paper. It was found abandoned in an abandoned German tank. The tank, incidentally, apart from a water leak, was absolutely intact!

We all seem to have recovered from Thursday's shock, looking back it does not seem to have been so bad as we thought at the time. But we realise more than ever how unnecessary it was. We passed over the spot last night where the enemy had been on Thursday.

August 7th 3.0 a.m.

I promised that this would be a decent letter, but I'm afraid it will not be after all. We are expecting to move on a short way, probably just before dawn, so things are being packed away.

I'm afraid my mail to you will have been delayed somewhat by our moving around. Just lately at collection time we have been on the move or just about to move, and in consequence the letters just accumulate at HQ until they can be unpacked and sent to the A.P.O.

As I said in my last hurried note, I am feeling much better after my short rest. But I'm still feeling very bitter about the casualties we suffered recently both in men and materials. All so unnecessary. The man who was killed was single, fortunately, but he was a very pleasant chap and well liked. Thank goodness he died quickly, as he was badly smashed. I had to help lift his body away from the gun and place a blanket over him. He was buried the following day. Our other casualties were not so serious as we first thought. The tank that fired on us was eventually knocked out by our other guns before it could do any further damages otherwise we should have been in a very difficult position. I should like to meet the person who was responsible for sending us so near to the enemy when it was not necessary. But war is a series of mistakes, in fact it is one long, big mistake.

At the moment we are alongside a small farm and orchard. We arrived here only about an hour after the enemy had left in a great hurry. The farmers arrived back at the farm soon after us. One was wounded in the head and our M.O. attended him. The orchard looked like a slaughter house with dead and dying cattle strewn all over the place. One of our first jobs was to kill the badly wounded cows and a horse (carrying a foal). (Fortunately some of the men aren't squeamish and don't mind doing these jobs—I have to turn away. But then these men have been butchers and farmers themselves). This afternoon, with the sun shining, ducks and geese idly swimming in the farmyard pond, chickens pecking away in the dust, you' d hardly imagine a more peaceful countryside scene—until you look at the holes in the farmhouses, look under the branches in the orchard and see the cattle, or walk in the cabbage patch and see the two dead Germans (young boys) still not buried.

Talking about farms and birds, our hen Tilly is still very much alive and has become quite a pet. She is now no longer afraid of us and sits on our laps and eats out of Tydeman's hand. She loves to eat the scraps from our mess tins and is especially fond of jam: She is a bit of a nuisance this dusty weather, though, as she will persist in scratching in the dust and the wind blows the dust over our food. We can't make up our minds whether to kill her or not. It was my turn for an egg to-day and it went down well. Our fresh rations while we are on the move consist mainly of bully beef, beans and stewed rice!

August 11th

Mt. Pinion

I am on duty, so this will be a disjointed letter. Seems as though I can never find time to write letters if I wait till I am off duty. Every time recently I have been due to go off duty we have had to move and when we move everyone has to give a hand. Since the offensive started, last Sunday week, we have moved about 8 times, and you can understand what disorganisation of our time and rest that creates. However, we are slowly going forward, which is the main thing Recently we passed over a spot near the highest point in this part of the world, so that may help to tell you what we are doing.

The sun and lack of rain makes everything dusty and it's quite a nightmare driving on the roads. Fortunately I sit next to the driver and we have a windscreen, but the dust comes in at the sides and the back. Motorcyclists look like phantoms at the end of a ride, face and arms and clothing and cycle all covered with a thin film of whitish grey dust.

Beyond the fact that I am well and in good spirits, that we are busy, that the air is continually full of shells, that we are revelling in the sun, there is not much to report. The papers give you a very good idea of what is going on.

(Incidentally, the Wednesday's papers we received to-day have rumours about Himmler being dead and Goring wounded. I have no sympathy for either and although it is un-Christian I hope the rumour is very soon confirmed.)

While I think of it I have just seen my "mascot". It is a little Teddybear which hangs over the table in my Command Post vehicle! I obtained it from a knocked out German motorcycle. I want to send it you as soon as I can.

10.45. Am just going to finish this off, before I start censoring. To-day's mail has not yet arrived. I cannot concentrate now, the biggest and most concentrated barrage on our front has just begun and the air and ground is shaking with the blast of the guns. The trees and hills reflect the sound making the inferno doubly horrible. What it is like the other end I dare not imagine.

August 13th

Just a swift note to let you know l am quite well, and we are still advancing a few thousand yards ahead each day.

August 14th

St. Pierre

We have moved again. I had to break off this letter last evening to go to the funeral of another of my men. He was killed yesterday afternoon when an enemy shell, shot at random, landed alongside one of our guns. He was killed instantly. I was sleeping about 10 yards away when it fell but was quite unhurt, not even shaken by the blast. My old troop have had several minor casualties recently with shelling, and in one way and another the last few days have been rather trying. However, the advance is going well and we are not likely to have so much opposition now for some time.

I really am quite well and am looking very sunburnt and bronzed.

August 15th

I will try to write you a decent letter now while we are waiting to move on again. For many reasons my recent letters have not been at all satisfactory and not comparable with my earlier letters. One of the many reasons is that we keep as much of our personal kit packed up all ready to move. We are a bit cramped for space and it is often difficult to get out our personal kit such as note paper, ink, etc. So when we do get an opportunity to write I usually have to make do with whatever I can lay my hands on. I am trying to keep my note paper in a small tin and keep it handy, but someone else always manages to put it away in the most unexpected places.

Also, as you have guessed from my letters, our conditions have not helped me to write long letters. The continual moves, packing and unpacking, shooting, lack of sleep and the random shelling do not help to make the mind at ease. The lack of sleep really makes everything seem much worse than it is.

One of the difficulties, almost one of the biggest difficulties, of being an officer is trying to look calm and brave when your inside is feeling uneasy and all your instincts tell you you are as afraid as anyone else. I have with me a new officer, Jack Cato. (Archie is doing a different job). He is more easily scared than anyone else in the troop and disappears at the first sign of a bang or the whine of a shell. As a result everyone else is becoming even more jumpy and nervous. Also he is not very well trained and I cannot rely on him. I'd much rather be without him but must put up with him for a while at least.

Near Conde sur Noireau

It is now 1.30 a.m. on Wednesday 16th. We moved before I had time to finish this letter. A longer move than some recent ones. It is raining now and we have had some thunder and lightning.

Fortunately I am on duty and am in the dry, it would be most unpleasant sleeping in a hole to-night.

We have had some more bad luck since arriving here. One of our own shells exploded not far from the guns (very rare occurrence) and wounded one of my men. Fortunately not serious wounds, but bad enough to send him back to England. Am glad to say we have been free from enemy shells for over 2 days now which is quite a relief. Long may it continue. But his shelling is really nothing compared with ours. We are 200% superior in artillery, especially on this front. So really, we have not much to fear.

(A great fat toad has just invaded this Command Post hole and is disconcerting me by his leaps! I really must be getting jumpy myself. The other evening a cricket kept me company most of the time. He kept walking all over my papers and maps and up and down the telephone wire.) While on nature I must tell you I have seen my first glowworms. There are quite a number of them around. Also, to-night, we picked up some luminous wood. Well, believe it or not, these twigs and small branches are phosphorescent. If you snap them in half the two ends glow.

7.0 p.m. We are waiting to move to another area to-night in preparation for something big. The news to-night is exciting, with the Americans near Versailles and Marseilles captured.

It has been a more restful day to-day after a tiring day and night yesterday. I stayed in bed from 9.0 a.m. till 2.30 p.m. waking up for lunch (cold chicken—open market) and dozing off again. Much cooler to-day after last night's storm and a soft breeze blowing.

No incidents to-day and it really looks as though all opposition on this sector has finished. Our objective has been captured and so we move off for fresh fields to conquer.

August 18th

Have lost count of days and time. No, not time, because my watch tells me it is quarter to two in the afternoon, and my tummy tells me it's a long time since breakfast.

We have moved a long way since my last letter and are only halted for a short while now. Everyone is feeling much better (including myself). We have got away from the continuous banging of the guns and rarely fire a shot. Also we have passed through some villages and towns recently liberated from the enemy and been greeted by civilians (our first sight of civilians for nearly 3 weeks). We have had a warm welcome all along the route, although quite a number of the people still seem dazed and bewildered. The very young do not quite know what is going on. I saw one little boy proudly giving the Nazi salute as though it was the correct greeting and others looking at their mothers to see if it was right to wave. But all of the people are glad to see us, if only for the relief that the war, for them, is over. The Tricolor was much in evidence and we saw a few Union Jacks and Stars and Stripes. Also a few young men with arm-bands on with the signs of the Fighting French (and this in a town which had been only recently—7 hours—liberated from the enemy). The town had been badly damaged by our bombing, but there were quite a few houses still intact.


I spoke to one of our soldiers doing traffic control in the town. He said "I can't do anything with them. They' ve kissed me, they' ve hugged me, they' ve slapped my back, they' ve given me cigarettes, they' ve given me wine, they' ve heaped flowers on me. Now they are doing my job for me " Sure enough there were two French youths with armbands in the centre of the town directing the Army traffic as if they had been trained to the job.

I saw one British motorcyclist get off his machine and walk towards two women. One was very old and was having difficulty in crossing the pile of rubble on the pavement. As the British soldier approached the old woman shrank back as if frightened. But the other woman and the soldier each took an arm and helped her over and she got over her fear, became all smiles and thanked him. Toujours 1' Entente Cordiale!

August 19th

I have been resting until now. It was a long tiring move yesterday, hot and dusty, so I did not get much rest yesterday. It was nearly 3 a.m. before we finally got settled in. We shall be on the move again fairly soon, I should think. During these days of movement at a quick tempo you can rest easy in mind, we are in little danger, less danger than the crowds on the roads at holiday times.

We had more friendly welcomes yesterday from the populace of the hamlets and towns. One young woman, with an F.F.I. armlet, came and spoke to us in broken English "The people of this town are very pleased to see you." Those we see, of course, are. The people who are not pleased to see us, presumably do not come to watch the vehicles pass through.

August 20th

Nr Argentan

It is a lovely hot, sunny day, with high cumulus clouds. It is a peaceful summer scene—if it were not for the columns of smoke rising from the large town in front and from the woods to the North and East. The enemy are being gradually rounded up and disposed of, but he is not giving in without a last struggle. Our progress is less spectacular than the Americans, we are doing most of the fighting, they are doing most of the occupying. However, all roads lead to Berlin and ours lead through Berlin back to England. So we don't mind if they do get all the headlines, so long as we come home.

We have moved twice to-day already—not certain yet whether we will move on again. We do not do much firing now (a few shots per day) and our minds and bodies are getting relaxed in the quiet peacefulness of the summer landscape. I am getting quite sunburnt. The countryside is more open now, a change from the Bocage country and we have more distant views.


Last night we met up with the Americans and also with the Fighting French unit. The French were very pleased to see us and helped us by directions, etc. They had been near the town some days. They had been unfortunately bombed by the Air Force on one occasion. At first we mistook them for Americans (completely equipped with American vehicles and uniforms). They even spoke broken English with a strong American accent!

One amused me very much. It was just getting dusk when one approached the Command Post and enquired if anyone spoke French. I offered to translate—however he spoke in broken English: "Me"—pointing to himself—"Comrade. Promener avec petite Mademoiselle, comrade, tres jolie—dans le champ and the hedge. Guard—they not shoot comrades? Vous, compris?" Not quite so easy as that but he was quite relieved when I assured him I understood. My guard were most amused (and jealous I fear) when I told them and wanted to know which field and which hedge!

I have received several letters from you to-day, one enclosing a comb. This is marvellous, and I am very relieved to have it. My hair has now been combed for the fourth time since D day. It was very noble of the assistant but I assure you mine was a very deserving case. I hope I can keep it, but I'm very prone to putting things down and forgetting where I put them.

You ask if I have heard about Harry. I'm sorry if I did not mention it earlier. The day that we had our second fatal casualty (when the shell landed 10 yards from where I was sleeping) Harry arrived back in the Battery. Quite unexpected. He is now in charge, or rather G.P.O. (not Troop Commander) of A Troop, while I am G.P.O. of B. Troop. Rather stupid arrangement, since we both trained in opposite troops back in England. However, my B.C. is satisfied with B Troop and does not want to upset a good working team. I should like to have gone back to A Troop, I feel I owe it to Ted, but it does not look as if I will.

Incidentally, I don't think I told you that on the day that Harry arrived I had two lucky escapes from shell fire. We had not been in our position long and I was walking round the guns, checking up to see if all was o.k. when we heard the shells whistling over in our direction. Fortunately there were already dug slit-trenches on the position, and we took cover immediately. The shells landed alongside the gun I had just left—almost in the spot where I had been standing a moment before! The shells were quite at random, because we had no more until the one that landed a few hours later and killed the one man. If we had been observed by the enemy he would have gone on firing until he had knocked us out.

You mention our planes bombing our forward troops. We had an experience like that, but no casualties to us. We were so near the retreating enemy that when the bombs dropped and the machine guns roared we though we were being attacked. It is a most terrifying experience and we hope we never have the real thing.

It is a colourful sunset this evening, purple and red, fading into purple and grey, very lovely. We have to be up at 5.0 a.m. on the move at 7.0, bound I don't know where.

August 24th. Wed. or Thurs.

L' Aigle

The date is correct, but I am not sure of the day. I'm sitting in my vehicle writing this and if I get out and ask anyone what day it is I'm bound to be discovered and given some more work to do. So I am keeping quiet, otherwise you won't get this letter.

We are having another of our quiet periods, similar to the one before the big push. That is, it has been raining all day and we have been doing maintenance and generally cleaning up. The advance has been going so quickly that the roads are becoming jammed with vehicles. Also we cannot, or at least, have not, met the enemy in strength, so there is no real need for us on the roads just now. So we are resting for a time before pushing on.

Just as well, as with so much movement, things were getting very untidy and dirty. Not stopping long in any one place meant that no large scale maintenance could take place or anyone do any washing, laundry, etc. So we really need a "rest" to get all our personal and vehicle maintenance up to date..

We have struck quite a pleasant farm area. We arrived the night of the 22nd, spent all day yesterday in the pouring rain hanging around not knowing what was going to happen to us and were then told we would be here for a few days. So we then had to get busy organising things for our own comfort while we are here. We have set up an Officers Mess, we are arranging baths for the men (in a large empty wine barrel!) and generally trying to make ourselves comfortable. There are no amenities, I'm afraid, and we have not the pleasure of running into a town like Bayeux as we did the last rest period. The towns and villages near here are in a bad state—yet not as bad as some villages in the early bridgehead Have not yet had an opportunity to look around, so must leave a detailed report of the area until another time.

We had another warm welcome all along our route to this place. Flag waving, children lining the route, girls and boys and young women presenting flowers to everyone as they drove past. We met up with the Americans the day before yesterday and it was a relief to know we were in the "Jeep country". We saw many lorry loads of prisoners en route, all looking young and scared.

The owner of the farm we have stopped at is a member of the F.F.I. and a very anti-Nazi. He escaped to England in 1940, assisted in the Narvik raid, was sent back to France to help organise the "Maquis" in this area. Took this farm and kept in touch by air. Parachutes brought him papers, weapons (1 Pistol, 2 M/Guns, 22 Mines, 40 grenades), which he had distributed and which the local patriots had used (he said they had killed 7 Germans and wounded others with Mines). All this was spoken in French, we managed to understand him between us.

The night before we arrived here we stopped at a very flourishing farm. The inhabitants were many, mostly refugees from the neighbouring village who had been bombed out during the early days of the invasion. In the morning, they came and visited us at our bivouacs and brought us all a glass of cider. We gave them cigarettes, sweets and chocolates for the children. They were very pleased. I have been distributing chocolate and sweets all along our route to the children. Whenever we pass a group I throw out some sweets and I there is a squeal of delight and a hurried rush to pick them up. The children look ever so happy sucking "bonbons". My small store has almost gone.

Yesterday we heard the news of Paris. It was most joyous news, and I couldn't help feeling then that all this has not been wasted. One feels uplifted at such moments with the sense of achievement, but the thing that so thrilled me was the news of the uprising of the Parisians to take their own city. That was a master-stroke of genius, a Churchillian touch, which will have such far-reaching effects in the years to come. If we could only sit back and let France complete her liberation while we prepare for the assault on Germany, all would be well.

Things should be quiet for the next few days.

August 25th

I am sorry I had to finish yesterday's letter in a hurry. The post had to go in and Archie and Sydney Kilbraier wanted me to go a walk with them. We wanted to see the local villages and town. If I tell you the town is named after a large bird you may have some idea where we went. We had quite a long walk there and back, and were quite relieved to find the camp again. The town itself was pretty deserted. The centre was badly knocked about but the large church had suffered little damage other than shattered windows. The French Civil Affairs Staff were just moving in to the largest hotel as we arrived. We could not find any Café open, but found a "Bar" where we had a small glass of cider. The people were rather scared of 3 officers at once and were very guarded in what they said. Possibly, too, because we did not understand each other very well. We gathered that the Germans stole all their drinks when they left and they apologised for not having anything other than cider.

Our B.C. told us that the people of this town had hidden the best of their wine on the river bed and were recovering it to-day.

To-day we had a lovely treat. It has been gloriously hot and we managed a swim in the nearby river. Followed by a sun-bathe on the river banks. It was scorchingly hot and one could not bathe for long in the sun. At the moment I am sitting in the sun listening to the B.B.C. programme broadcast over one of our gun-loudspeakers.

When we move from here we expect it to be a longish move.

We have heard from both of our Sergeants who were wounded. They are both recovering well in England, having been flown home. One expects to be back very soon but the other will be some time.

Some of the men have gone to an Ensa show to-night, I'm hoping to go to-morrow, or possibly to a cinema.

August 26th

Another lovely, hot day, spoilt by the visit of our Corps Commander R.A. We have been hanging around all the afternoon waiting for his inspection. He did not arrive until 5 p.m. Very trying, especially as we could have had a very enjoyable rest.

We have also been expecting to move all day but are still here. Perhaps we shall move to-morrow.

I'm hoping to go out this evening, with some of the boys, Harry, John, Sydney and Archie. Also have my haircut by the Battery barber, my locks are almost curling!

Later. My locks are shorn and I now look 10 years younger. The barber, a Yorkshire man, assures me it will last until the war is over, so you can tell what a short cut he has given me. We are not going out after all.

August 30th


This will be a short, hurried note during a pause in our advance. We have travelled more than 100 miles since our "Rest" area and we are still advancing. We crossed "ole man river" a day or two ago and have made good progress since then. There is hardly any opposition worth speaking of and we have not yet fired a shot. We have seen many prisoners coming in. Have just watched 70 or more march down the road behind a Jeep.

The roads are congested with all our traffic and we go forward in leaps or rather rushes, with long pauses in between each rush. We do not know how long each pause is going to be so it is difficult to settle down to do any big job, such as letter writing. The weather, too, has been unpleasant ever since we left the Rest area.

We were due to leave the Rest area at 11.45 a.m. Owing to the traffic it was 5.0 p.m. before we moved. We had a 60 mile journey which took us 9 hours, ending up in a wood at the darkest part of the night. I rode a motor-cycle without lights most of the way! I finally got to bed at 3.30 a.m. We were up again at 5.30 a.m. on the move. We moved forward in about 6 long rushes, finally settling down for the night at about 9.0 p.m. We were up again at 5.30 a.m. and have been on the move all day to-day.

Everywhere we go we get the same joyous welcome. Old and young alike come out to greet us. Always too the streets are flagged with the Tricolor and an occasional Union Jack and Stars & Stripes. Not just hung from windows, sometimes stretched from house to house across the street. On some walls the words in chalk "Welcome" or sometimes "WELL COME". One house had the pathetic sign, painted in black, hurriedly, "MERCI, VIVE LA LIBERTE".

It is an amazing advance. To-day we had an experience which ended happily, but might have been serious. I made a mistake map reading while travelling across open country and took 3 of our vehicles down the wrong road. Turning a corner we saw a village in front of us. There was a crowd of people standing at a road junction and I could see some flags. Then I noticed a tank on the corner. At first I thought it might be enemy, but soon recognised it as friendly. We drove up and were immediately surrounded by the civilians as I shook hands with the tank driver. He was relieved to see us he said as he did not know what was up the road we came along. The civilians had reported to him that the last vehicles to go up our road were German horse drawn guns! That must have been last evening. This tank was one of the leading tanks which had just liberated the village. The driver was not quite sure of his whereabouts so with the assistance of the civilians and my maps we discovered my mistake. I had turned south instead of north (it was raining hard at the time!) The villagers all wanted to shake hands and were all pouring out wine for my vehicle crews. They were difficult to shake off and as I was in a hurry it was rather embarrassing. They pressed eggs on us and when we eventually turned round and drove off in the direction we had come we were 2 dozen eggs and some wine the richer than when we came! We were only a few minutes late at our new rendezvous area and that mainly because of a bomb crater in one of the roads we had to take. The crater made us go on to the fields and we got stuck in the mud.

While I have been writing this letter, Tydeman my most valuable batman (he looks after me better than Barringer) has handed me a Mess Tin of fried new potatoes (culled from the fields) and a fried egg (one of the villagers' gifts!) Outside my vehicle it is drizzling under a grey sky. We are waiting in a field beside a road crowded with vehicles of all descriptions, waiting their turn to move on. We have but a mile or two to go to our harbour area for the night, but we cannot reach it yet.

Of the big battle as a whole we hear very little. Our mail and papers have not yet caught us up. We are hoping they will catch up with us to-night.

August 31st


We have moved a long way since I wrote those lines. We travelled all night, no sleep, and have been moving forward all day to-day. It is certainly a swift advance. I cannot write you very much—for one thing I am too tired to concentrate. Besides I am hoping this letter will go to-night. We are so far ahead now that our mail and supplies take some time to come up and also be collected.

September 4th

Willebroek, nr Antwerp

I'm sorry if you have been a long time without letters. Things have moved fast and far recently and it has been most difficult to live, eat and sleep and write. I cannot remember when I last wrote, so much has happened, so much has changed. I remember sending you a card, (was it yesterday or the day before?) and I remember posting a letter to you a day or two ago but exactly what I said and when I wrote it I cannot remember.

No, I haven't lost my memory. Just tired, with a brain full of new impressions and wondering how to tell you about them. I'm trying to discover ways and means of saving my conscience and the censor trouble. I shall be able to write more to-morrow when I am less tired and when I know more about the censorship rules.

I know now why we have been called the British Liberation Army. We know now what it is to see people over-joyed (sometimes a much abused word, but recently come into its own), to see people who know what they like and don't mind showing their feelings. We could not have been made more welcome if we had been coming home to our own people. One day I will write and tell you the full story of this amazing dash from Normandy. At the moment it is a confused picture of flags, bunting, of children, men and women, all ages and all sizes, lining the roads and fields and streets, all frantically waving and shouting and cheering, fluttering handkerchiefs, women and girls blowing kisses, men and women embracing the soldiers whenever the vehicles stopped—of children and women throwing flowers (gay blooms—vivid reds and yellows), decorating vehicles with flowers, of hands outstretched trying to shake hands with the driver and any one on the vehicle, of the rush of onlookers whenever a vehicle stopped, how they swarmed over the vehicle shaking hands with everyone—in France the bottles of wine and glasses of wine handed round with cries of "Bonne Sante", "Good Luck", "Goodbye",—later on the bottles of beer grasped from outstretched hands as we sped past, of the fruit and biscuits thrown into the vehicle to be caught by the driver and myself, of the French girls who insisted on riding on the pillion seats of the motor cyclists sometimes for miles through the towns, of the cigarettes given and received, of the children held up to, shake "Tommy" by the hand or be kissed by "Tommy" (yes, I kissed two little babies or rather children yesterday).

And then the other side of the picture. The constant halts, the getting into and out of action, several times a days always without firing a shot, as the enemy were driven off by tanks or surrendered, of the time when the column of vehicles was ambushed, of the burning and exploding vehicles as the bullets went home, our Battery Commander being killed in his Jeep as he passed a blazing ammunition lorry which exploded at the moment he passed, how the villagers scattered from the roads and houses when the firing started and of our alarm when we heard the enemy were just around the corner, how one officer and one gun crew took 4 officers and 90 men prisoners, how later I took 3 prisoners (one wounded), how we carried them on our own vehicles for the whole long journey.

Then the final touch. The darkness falling, the roads packed with vehicles each following the red light of the one in front, of the confusion in some towns where collaborateurs were being rooted out, of the smashed houses and their furniture strewn on the pavement blazing into the night (not many houses but enough to make you wonder what was going on in other towns), of enthusiastic patriots firing their small arms into the air causing more confusion).

Then the harbouring at night in the open field in the darkness, bizarrely lit by the distant glows of fires and explosions. All this needs a fuller explanation and the names of places to fit it in the picture. But it is still as confused as I have written it and I must wait for a quieter period before I give you more details.

I received your parcel and letters in France, but never had an opportunity to read them there! I read them on the journey. Must write you a proper letter soon. We expect to rest soon to re-organise, but we haven't quite finished our journeyings.

What pleases us all most about this dash is the cutting-off of the buzz bomb sites. We drove slap across a disused site en route, and we were all highly delighted. It had been bombed and left derelict.

The only blot on the whole affair was the loss of our B.C. We had all gradually grown to like him, and although he had some ideas we did not all agree with, he was well liked and always cheerfully confident. We hope we will get Stephen or Bob back, but it is unlikely.

September 7th


I have been writing a difficult letter, to the relatives of the Gunner who was killed some little while ago. An unpleasant job but one that must be done. I have one other to write, but must leave that until I know that his relatives have been informed. (No, these are not new casualties).

Well, I am still waiting for that quiet period when I can write you a decent letter and tell you all that is happening. But we are about to set out on another expedition of liberation which needs preparation —and lack of sleep. More so, now for awhile, as I am without my Troop Leader who has had to go back to France to fetch some supplies! Goodness knows when he will get back.

I am writing this in a house (previously occupied by the Germans) on the outskirts of a large town much in the news these days. Our guns are ready to fire over the town if required. The inhabitants don't seem particularly alarmed at being between us and the enemy, but I suppose they have had a few days to become accustomed to it.

I am a little more rested than when I wrote my last letter—We had one day on which we never moved at all, i.e. the guns didn't move. I had to move around inspecting and checking up on the maintenance etc.

Our Colonel is very pleased that all our vehicles arrived together after the long gruelling race at high speed, much of it across country and cobbly roads and lanes, very little on tarmac or modern cement roads. We kept off the roads as much as possible because there was so much traffic on them.

Most of the men have had an opportunity to visit a town and see something of the life. I had hoped to go out last night and was all dressed up ready to go into the town when we had sudden orders to move immediately. So that was that.

The men seem to be very impressed with the people here who they think treat them better than the French and seem to be cleaner and their houses brighter than the French. I think they are making unfair comparisons because they were never in any big towns in France (excepting Bayeux).

Certainly our reception has been most friendly and the children have been the most delightful part. They simply swarm around you. Every soldier seems a small Pied Piper when he walks around, there are so many children, clean and fresh in bright coloured clothes.

Yes, I am agreeably surprised to see so many healthy happy children. I cannot say whether this holds good all over the country, we have only seen a very small portion of the country and mainly the country areas where food is always more plentiful. Certainly many children look thin and small, but not unhealthy and certainly happy and not starved.

They are delightful, shaking hands with everyone. This morning children were walking all round the gun area giving tomatoes to every soldier. I was having a few hours rest (3 to be precise) in my bivouac this morning when a blonde curly head poked in, saw I was awake, shook hands, put a large red tomato in my hand, smiled and walked away.

In our short drive through the streets last night we collected over a lb. of tomatoes from gifts from the street as we passed by. I have seen more ripe red tomatoes recently than I have seen the whole war.

I think the children were reacting from the Germans. I gather that the Germans would shoo the children away and have little to do with them. The "Tommy" loves to have children around him. I wonder if that is true on the whole?

It has been delightful, too, to watch the local inhabitants wandering around, blissfully unaware that we are always liable to be attacked at any moment. Friendships spring up immediately. The women come and do the soldiers' washing for them, the young girls were blissfully peeling potatoes and learning the English names of the vegetables, even Tydeman had his job taken away from him. My badges on my shoulder straps had been torn away and Tydeman was just going to sew them on again when a woman took jacket, badges and needle and thread away from him and sat down and did them there and then.

I expect the novelty will wear off after a few days, but it is delightful to see such willing co-operation between different nationalities. Occasionally, too, we meet an English man or woman, but I have never yet had an opportunity for a long conversation with them. It's so strange to hear some one say "Anyone here come from Manchester?" One bright boy we met could speak a little English, he had learned it all in the last 6 months from the B.B.C. radio and at school.

We were a little puzzled by the behaviour of some of the people, We had 3 prisoners on our position and were searching them surrounded by a large number of civilians. While we were removing all weapons from the prisoners, relieving them of about 250,000 francs which they had stuffed in their clothes (nearly a million French francs altogether from the 3 of them) some of the civilians were shaking hands with the prisoners and patting them on the back! Whether it was the desire to touch a German prisoner, I don't know, it certainly puzzled us somewhat.

September 8th


I have finished my disagreeable letter (to the mother of the first gunner killed having just heard that his mother has been informed). Now I can settle down to write the letters I enjoy writing.

We are having another enforced rest, being under short notice to move. It has its disadvantages because we have to keep most things packed away., However, for the first time since D day we have managed to establish our Command Post in a house. This is a house on the outskirts of a large town, our guns are on the allotments! When we fired yesterday many windows were broken.

There is little furniture in the house. It was originally owned by an English man who escaped to England in May, 1940. The Germans occupied the house and have taken most of the furniture and fittings. However, the water and electricity system is still working and it is quite a luxury for us. The weather has been cold and wet and we have been glad to be within four walls.

Heated the hot water downstairs & carried it up to the bath.

Yesterday I managed a hot bath in a real bath in the house of a Dutchman who lives opposite. He speaks fairly good English, but his wife does not. They were only too willing to do anything for me. They offered me a cup of tea (£25 a lb.) which I was unable to drink as I was called away to control the guns. But I managed my bath which was a real treat. Last evening, too, I managed to visit the centre of the town for a couple of hours (we have to be clear of the town by 22.00 hrs.) Most of the shops were closed but the bars and estaminets were still open. The shop windows carried bills, printed in English, "The Belgian people are grateful to their British and American Allies for liberating them" (or similar wording). Archie Birrell and I visited one or two cafés, drank a glass of light beer in each, neither of which we had to pay for. There were few people around, the civilians still have a 9.0 p.m. curfew, the old German orders have not yet been withdrawn. It was weird to walk the streets, seeing civilians unconcernedly sitting around outside cafés, yet less than a mile away, just across the canal, we could hear the vicious rattle of a few machine guns, occasionally the quick sudden rush and bang of an enemy 88 mm shell and the whine and bang of our own shells going the other way. So confident are the populace, though, that they are arranging dances for Saturday evening and getting ready to attract the troops. We finished up at a hotel opposite the station. It was supposed to be closed, but we were invited in by the proprietor for a glass of port wine. He spoke very good English, had been a P.O.W. in Germany in 1940, had two brothers serving in the British Army.

All the people we saw were very neat and smartly dressed and all the cafés looked flourishing and clean. But living must have been very expensive as the people we spoke to all agreed they had had to dabble, or rather live, on the Black Market. I have yet to learn how the poor live.

Incidentally, my Dutch friend estimated that 12% of the Belgian children were tubercular. He said they may look well and bonny now, but they will grow worse as they grow older. Rather an awful thought. (As I was writing this letter, a gentleman came in and presented me with two illustrated books on the Port of Antwerp, printed in English, which he thought might be useful).

I am enclosing the copy of the paper I picked up, in the street last night. Some men in a van were throwing them away, obviously members of the C. party, the party seems to have a pretty good organisation. It did not take long for Party Politics to start!

Now to answer your letters. You were right when you wondered if we crossed the Seine at Vernon. From Vernon we had that long all night march to Amiens then on to Aubergny (west of Arras) then on to Lens. From there on you must wait until later for my route. We stopped in Lens on our way, and were pretty well mobbed by the crowd. My vehicle was within a mile or so of the head of the column so we were pretty well the first in. I forget how many times I was kissed, but it was more than 3! I think I told you that I was also kissed by a Belgian (man) soon after we crossed the border.

September 10th

I'm going to try in this letter to give you some further information about our activities in Normandy. I say try, because except for place names I have given you most of the more interesting details.

As you know, we spent the time prior to D-day in a concentration camp, C-14, near Romsey. We moved to Southampton on the Saturday, June 3rd, so we all guessed D-day would be Monday (as our training had been arranged we always practised our loading exercises on D-2).

Sunday was spent in swinging compasses in Southampton Water, getting formed up. On board we put the final touches to our waterproofing and surveyed our maps to discover where we were going. We had been issued with sets of maps in Romsey, just prior to leaving, with strict instructions not to open the packages until D-1. We did not know D day until we got on board, only the skipper had been informed.

Early on the Monday morning we slipped anchor as arranged and sailed down towards The Needles. The weather was cold and even in the sheltered waters was very rough. So we were not surprised when we slowed down, halted and hung around undecided for a time and then returned to our moorings. The rest of the day was spent in speculation, getting more acquainted with the General Plan. I was able to see a copy of the full orders issued to the Navy for the operation and was staggered by the size and scope of the operation, and by the terrific amount of planning and work necessary to achieve success. The orders and charts alone took up several hundred type-written foolscap sheets! For the Navy alone!

We turned in as early as we could, I sleeping on the deck near the skipper's cabin. We were all provided on board with two warm sleeping blankets, all stitched and folded into sleeping bags. This saved us from unpacking our own blankets so carefully stowed away in waterproofed places. However, the sleeping bags were so much better than our own blankets that I told the men to swop them around before we landed.

We sailed again early in the morning, 5.30 a.m., I think. Again we waited off Spithead wondering whether we should turn back. After a quarter of an hour's suspense full speed ahead was ordered and we were off. As we sailed past the large liners, now carrying infantry and small landing craft on their lifeboat derricks, we exchanged greetings by signal lamps with Capt. Hall and Capt. Perry who were travelling with the infantry.

I now opened the document marked "not to be opened until the last possible moment". They were final instructions and messages to the troops from the King, Eisenhower, Montgomery and our own Divisional Commander. These all had to be read to the Troops and the place names of the towns, etc., had to be given them. As I told you earlier, I took them into the cabin just above the engine room and the fumes, etc. and the water gave me that nauseating feeling when you fight against sickness.

The briefing over, I went round to see that everyone was wearing his Mae West (life-belt), everything fastened down, ammunition secure and dry (the spray and waves were washing over the sides).

Ours was the slowest part of the convoy so it set off first. It seemed to take ages to pass the Isle of Wight and it was almost dark before we finally said the land was out of sight.

Mac was very keen to hold a service on board during the day. I think some of the men would have liked it but there was no suitable place or time to have it. Most of the men were feeling queer, if not sea-sick, and only wanted to lie down and stay there. The wind was strong and dead against us, waves smashing against the bows, the boat heaving and swaying, the chains and shackles grinding against each other, the engines revving at full speed against the high wind and strong tide. Everything was against a service and the deck was too crowded with vehicles. The men could only stand or sit in the spaces between vehicles, which meant in small knots of 2 or 3 men. Some were sleeping on their vehicles.

Our L.C.T. was towing a fast motor launch to save its fuel. Three times before nightfall the towing cable snapped with the strain of the constant buffeting of the waves. In the end it had to be left to come along under its own power.

Nightfall found me in my hammock behind the bridge. I had to be tucked in by a sailor otherwise I should have been cold.

It was still dark when we woke on D-day. The first troops were due to land at 07.20 and we had to open fire on the coast at 06.45. Our target was a line of pill-boxes built on a sea wall. In the darkness we could see but a few distant lights around us and the vague shapes of other L.C.T.s in the convoy. Otherwise all was quiet and no one would have suspected that the biggest armada ever assembled was around us.

Soon it was light enough to see the surrounding ships and it was really a most astonishing sight. The sea was literally alive with ships of all shapes and sizes as far as the eye could see. Already the small infantry craft and ducks were making their way towards the beaches having been slipped into the water from the big boats in the darkness.

I was now on the bridge making preparations for our shoot and for the next three-quarters of an hour had little time to see what was going on around. We could just make out the details of the mainland behind the pall of smoke laid by aircraft which had drifted across the beaches.

We opened fire at about 7 miles from the shore and fired for ¾ of an hour, steadily steaming towards the coast. By now, fast destroyers were racing past us, occasionally opening fire on shore targets and drowning the noise of our own guns. Ted Hall was in a small boat off shore about ¾ of a mile from our target watching to see that our shells were hitting in the target. Once only during the run in did we see an enemy shell land in the water just ahead of us. Otherwise opposition from the shore was negligible.

After our shoot we had to wait off shore for ½ an hour or more before we could land. The landing was worked to an elaborate time-table to prevent crowding on the beaches.

As we cruised up and down., making our preparations for a quick get off, we could see the beaches (now just a narrow strip between high water mark and the tide, crammed with boats and vehicles and men. Behind the beach, thick rolling clouds of smoke from the burning grass added to the confusion. Through the smoke we could recognise the landmarks we had memorised from the air photos we had been shown before leaving Romsey. The water tower with an "Eiffel Tower" beside it, a large white house on its own with a main road leading up from the beach, the anti-tank ditch, the sea wall and its line of pill-boxes.

The ships on the beach were having a difficult time. The strong wind and tide had made them ground almost sideways to the coast instead of head on, so far too much of the beach was covered by ships' sides. Also, boats were becoming damaged or stuck and the beach was fast becoming jammed.

However, we could not delay and our skipper headed for a small opening between two ships. As we ran in, a small infantry craft in front of us hit an underwater obstacle and exploded, disappearing from sight immediately. We did not see any survivors. We came in alongside another L.C.T. which had beached all right. But the first vehicle off the ramp had stuck in the water and in consequence none of the vehicles behind could get off, nor could the landing craft close its ramp. We hoped our vehicles would not suffer the same fate.

There was the slight shock as the bows hit the beach, the doors swung down, the party of R.E.s in the bows pushed out the "Rolly-Polly" (a long carpet strengthened with iron bars to form a firm base for our vehicles to run on and prevent the tracks cutting deep grooves in the soft sand). The R.E.s waded ashore and we drove-off over the carpet. We had but a short journey through the water and soon joined the stream of traffic making for the only exit from the beach, the road past the prominent house. All our vehicles got off in quick succession, without a hitch.

Up the road from the beach I met Ted who directed me to a Gun Area and then gave me two more guns to look after belonging to another Regiment! We did not actually set foot on French soil until ½ an hour after we landed, but were feeling so sick of the sea, that it was two or 3 days before we felt we were on dry land.


We actually landed on the beaches just west of La Riviere which is about ½ way between Arromanches and Port-en-Bessin. We made straight inland from there, to Crepon and Creully near which we spent the first night. From there we went to Martragny (where we last saw Mac), St. Leger and then North of Conde-sur-Seulle, south of Bayeux (It was here, where I found the nest of little birds). Conde-sur-Seulle was near Tilly-sur-Seulle, where so many hard and bloody battles were fought. Later we moved to Chouain, nearer to Tilly, after Tilly had been taken. From here we fought the fruitless battles for Hottot, in one of which Ted was killed. Wrong. Ted was killed before we moved to Chouain. Making no progress at Hottot we were switched to the west nearer to the U.S. troops. Little progress was made there so we were switched right across to the eastern sector, this side of Caen at Fontenay-Le-Pesul, to support the several fruitless attacks on Villers Bocage. It was here, at Fontenay, that we saw that terrifying raid on Caen one lovely sunrise. It was here, too, that we had our first night air raids and bombing.

After several days at Fontenay in which little progress was made, we went to our first "rest" camp at St. Andre, a few miles Southwest of Bayeux.

From the rest camp, we went back to our position on the western sector near the U.S. Troops. We had been in that position about a fortnight earlier, so you can see the rate of progress at that time.

We had just got into position when we heard the news of the U.S. breakthrough at St. Lo. From then on we have never stopped moving. All that night tanks and guns and infantry lorries rumbled past our position, being switched from the Caen sector to the Caumont sector. We moved to Caumont the next morning.

The attack beyond Caumont began on a Sunday morning with a big air raid by our Lancasters. You wondered at the time whether I was near it. Well, the front line was less than 2000 yards from us. The bombers were coming in so low we could see their bomb doors open and release their bombs.

From then onwards we began our war of movement and we ceased to dig ourselves in. We moved to Jurgues, south of Caumont, where we had our brush with the Tank. A night march followed which brought us to the western slopes of Mont Pincon. We then switched to the northern slopes and at one time had our guns almost on the summit!

Then began the slow, slogging march on our advance to Condé-sur-Noireau as the Canadians pushed down to Falaise and the Americans up to Argentan. We moved only 2 or 3 miles at a time and the whole area was one big battlefield, a battle mainly fought with guns.

When the break came at Condé no one was more relieved than we were and the advance through Flers, Argentan (poor Argentan, just a heap of rubble) to L' Aigle restored our morale. From there you know the story as far as Lens, and I still cannot take you any further.

This has taken me off and on nearly 3 hours to write. It is pretty cold now after a clear moonlit night but I'm quite warm. We expect to move on again. Incidentally we have left the last location.

I hope the censor, if he reads this, will not cut it up, it's taken long to write, I'd hate to have to write it again!

September 13th. 3. 15 a.m

Kursaal near Albert Canal

I regret to say I was lazy yesterday. We had a day in which we did almost nothing, and I'm afraid that is all I did. I could have written you a letter, but knowing I was on duty, to-night I just sent you a card and had a real lazy day.

I have a distraction, an accordeon which I am learning to play. My Sergeant Major found one during the dash across France. An Italian accordeon in a German supply truck abandoned on the road side. It has stops instead of keys and is therefore more difficult to master. So far I have learnt the treble scales and can squeeze out a few tunes, but certainly I have a very long way to go before I can say I can play it. Fortunately noone else can play it so no one suffers at my efforts. We are all endeavouring to master it and it affords a certain amusement to us and the Belgians.

While talking about captured enemy equipment I must mention that yesterday we had a pleasant surprise. The Troop was presented with a dozen bottles of wines and liqueurs, about 1500 cigarettes, 50 packets of tobacco and a few cigars. The "loot" came from a captured train caught in the railway siding at Antwerp and the whole trainload has been split up amongst the regiments in the Division. The English soldier will be quite a connoisseur of wines and liqueurs by the end of the war, but you cannot make him forget his English beer.

There is not much to tell you about our present "work". For the moment, as you see from the papers, the great rush has slowed down to a gradual advance, mainly owing to the difficulties of ground such as canals and rivers, rather than increased enemy resistance. We have the more static job of protecting the supply lines and we have been static for two days now. How long this will continue I cannot say. Occasionally we see a German plane, our first sight since Normandy days before the battle of Mont Pincon.

We are on the outskirts of a very rambling village. The people are very much the peasant type and not as interesting as the French peasants, but it is not fair to compare the peasants of Normandy with these peasants, the nature of the country is so vastly different. Since we arrived the "work" of the patriots in rounding up the collaborationists has gone on apace. On our first evening, 6 women of the village had their hair shaved off and were then forced to run up and down the streets chased by men with bayonets until the women were almost exhausted. 6 men, too, were "treated" by the angry crowd. They were roughly handled by the crowd, having their faces punched, their coats and ties and shirts pulled off them, and generally insulted by the crowd. The men I believe were afterwards put in the local cells by the gendarmes, but whether for trial or protection I'm not sure. One man, during the whole of his treatment by the crowd, kept his hand rigidly at the Nazi salute and even when he stumbled under a blow always returned to the attention with arm raised.

I give you this from two of our Officers who witnessed the whole thing. They got caught in the crowd and could not escape. Although revolted by the whole affair, they were powerless to stop it. It is difficult to put oneself in the position of the people. One patriot tells us his wife was taken to Germany by the retreating Germans. Others have seen their workmates bound and shot and illtreated. During the long cold winters, the Belgians have been short of food and fuel, but the Germans and the collaborateurs never went short. Such things must cause bitter resentment and demand a redress, otherwise life becomes permanently sour.

To-night we had a very good hot shower in the nearest large town. The baths are part of a large industrial organisation and are open day and night. The local authorities have put it at the disposal of the troops at any time and it is a most welcome boon. A separate shower for each man and a separate locker for each man to put his clothes into. Unfortunately I cannot tell you where!

September 15th


I'm afraid I neglected you yesterday. I became so engrossed in reading Mary Webb's book "Gone to Earth", that I did not allow myself any time to write at all yesterday. Also, in the evening, my night off duty, I went into the village with John, Harry and Archie. I wish I had gone alone as they spent most of the time in making fatuous conversations with the barmaids (aged about 17, one could speak a little French). So yesterday was partly a wasted day, although I did enjoy reading Mary Webb's book.

Yesterday afternoon our Battery played a Belgian team in the nearby village. I had to go down and watch and see fair play. It was difficult to make ourselves understood but the game was quite a success. We won 7-1. They had a penalty awarded them and refused to score from it, just tapping the ball slowly to the goalkeeper.

5.40. Have just received two letters from you, dated 9th and 10th Sept. So you had only then heard that I was across the Seine and just beginning the long drive into Belgium. It must be so infuriating to you when our positions are given roughly over the B.B.C. It will be another week now before you know where I am now and I shall probably be in another country by then! We have moved since yesterday and are now much nearer the actual front. Jerry is already reminding us of the fact that he is not so far away, but so far we have not been worried. Yes, he is using his Luftwaffe at night but in comparison with ours it is nothing to worry about. He dare not stay here long. The news, generally, all round is still good and every one is still quietly confident about the whole issue, but we know that the days of triumphal tours are over and that our progress gradually becomes difficult.

I am glad you have been out to see a film. It reminds me that I have not seen a film since D–3, I don't think I've ever gone quite as long as this without seeing a film, but I don't really feel a sense of something lacking. What I should like is to feel the mental relaxation of being able to decide (a) to stay in or (b) to go to a film (if you understand me.) At the moment my mind is always concerned with wondering whether our preparations for defence are sufficient, whether my Bren Guns, etc., are well sited, if my alarm signals work and if—oh so many ifs that I sometimes forget them.

You ask if I have seen any signs of starvation in France or Belgium. I think I have already mentioned this in a letter, but I really cannot say I have seen any real signs of starvation. It is so difficult to say when our journey is so swift and when we have so little time to visit towns. All I can say is that all the people and children I have seen are particularly well and bonny, perhaps not so robust as the English equivalent ages, but that may be due to the difference of nationality. Certainly I have not seen any signs of thin, emasculated adults and children, no signs of bony limbs and faces.

I am just eating a piece of bread baked by our cook in the wall oven of a house we are alongside. We had an amusing time trying to explain we wanted to bake bread and it took some time for the farmers to explain they did not need bread tins, the bread was baked on the hot iron pan.

Am afraid I cannot write much more as I have to go for orders in a few moments, and that will take some time.

I enclose a few flowers and heather from our gun position, the country is full of colour just now, reminds me so much of Goathland and Tadley. You ask if we are across a certain canal. Yes, we are, and have been for some days.

September 16th

Escaut Canal

I received your letter 23 last evening after I had written to you. You wrote it last Sunday/Monday, so your letters are gradually catching up with me. Hope mine are coming through o.k. I understand you have received them up to the 4th, which is better than some of the men who are complaining that the letters home are being delayed. (Break for meal)

8.0 p.m. It was a longer break than I intended. I had to go and fetch some maps and then "brief" the men for the next operation. It took longer than I anticipated, so I'm afraid I have missed the post this evening.

To finish answering your letter. I don't want my overcoat until later. I am hoping to be home before I need it! Optimist! Actually we are endeavouring to cut down this spirit of optimism amongst the troops. So many men are talking about being home for Xmas that we are afraid there may be many disappointments if they are not. Even it the actual fighting should cease before Xmas there will be a lot of work still to be done.

September 20th


Well, I didn't really know how much work had to be done. We' ve done quite a bit these last few days, and have progressed quite a lot. But it has not been easy work by any means and we are very annoyed with the B.B.C. for making things sound so easy. In this canal country, dykes and rivers and canals are all natural and artificial tank obstacles. In consequences all bridges are vitally important and each step forward means "bridgehead" work each time. Every day is almost a miniature "original D day". For us, these present bridgehead operations are more difficult than the original Normandy bridgehead as we are much nearer the actual fighting and the fighting is so concentrated.

I'm now in a country you know something about, but I don't know whether I am near any places you have visited. We have had a very colourful reception from the inhabitants, in fact one night say an orange reception, the girls and women wearing orange dresses and skirts, orange sashes. The people, whenever we stopped a few minutes, always, invariably, wanted to know where the Prince was, had we brought him with us: They seemed to expect us to produce him out of the back of our vehicle:

I shall not forget these recent days in a hurry. Nor will most of us. On Monday we were shelled and sniped during the evening and then just before dark were bombed. Probably only about a dozen aircraft but we were so concentrated on the ground that we were in a dangerous position.

Just across the Escaut Canal

There were several H.E. bombs and many anti-personnel bombs raining down all around us. We lay shivering in our slit trenches, thinking our last moments had come. It did not seem possible that we could be missed. Yet when the ½ hour was over and we crawled out of our holes, the only damage to our whole Battery was, casualties Nil, a few vehicles only suffering minor damage, punctured tyres, etc., from shrapnel. Two men were slightly dazed when an anti-personnel bomb hit the end of their slit trench. I had been digging a hole for sleeping in when the bombing started, and was in my shirt sleeves. There was no time to put my jacket on so I had to lie down flat on the dirty sandy soil. So I might have been shivering with cold, but more likely—fright!


I think the bombing was worse, although the shell we had on Sunday night was heavy and one of my men became hysterical and had to be sent away to the casualty station. He was one of our youngest men and has really stuck things very well.

I knew the first two days of this operation would be the worst so I think that probably accounts for my not writing on Sunday and Monday, I could not compose myself to write letters. However, I think the worst is now over and we have a little time to collect our thoughts. The situation is still very fluid, but we have the upper hand now and have so many prisoners it is becoming difficult to cope with them!

I cannot tell you the most interesting and most heartening part of the recent days. Something which has made men homesick. I've met a number of people who know Reading very well. I wonder if that means anything to you? I can't be more explicit.

Must close, as the post is going now, while we can get a truck.

September 22nd


I ought to be having a nap, but I'm determined to begin a letter to you tonight. If I delay it, it's bound to be delayed indefinitely. I would have begun earlier, but had some targets to plot and then had to investigate a few shots in the dark. Someone accidently fired their rifle while on guard! We are pretty safe here really and I wasn't worried, but I had to make my own guard investigate, must to keep them on the alert.

I met someone who is going back to England shortly. And he hopes to be near Reading! I nearly took his clothes and changed identity cards! Anyway, I have given him your address and phone number and he has promised to ring you up when he gets back. I hope he makes it very soon. He might come and see you, so make him welcome.

Friday, Sept. 22. 5.0 p.m.


Well, I went to sleep then. We had a fire plan before breakfast then I had another short nap until lunch time when we had sudden orders to move. So we are now further north than when I began this letter. I said goodbye to Sheppard, the man I gave our address to. He doesn't know now when he will get back to England, but I am hopeful that it will be soon.

From all accounts you must have had a very noisy lunch time last Sunday when the air armada set off. In fact every day this week must have been very noisy for you. Well, it's been noisy for us, too, as we have seen the armadas arriving. It has been a most interesting time for us, but that is as much as I can say.

We heard the news this morning about the Demobilisation plans and the increased pay and allowances. First impressions from most people are favourable and the plan seems reasonable. The only black spot on the demob. horizon is the Japanese war, but we note with satisfaction that a large Army is not expected to be needed. Churchill, true to his historical role of champion of the Empire's prestige has secured a role for us in the Japanese war. I suppose in honour bound we are pledged to such action, but there are many who would not have raised a murmur if our role had not been so ambitious. However, perhaps the end in the Pacific will come much more quickly than we dare hope.

September 24th

Nr Nijmegen

Another Sunday, another day like the rest, although so far we have not done any firing, having moved on north several miles from last night's position.

Yesterday we had our heaviest day's shooting since Normandy, the guns were hardly ever silent all day. Things were sticky at one time but we broke up the attack by our artillery fire and eventually things quietened down. The Americans we were supporting reckon we saved their lives. Later, when the great sky trains of gliders and paratroop planes came overhead flying north the enemy became very quiet and withdrew hurriedly. So this morning we were able to continue our advance.

We are alongside another farm. This one has electricity laid on and for the first time we are able to hear the wireless continuously all day. My Sergeant Assistant (Sidney Stowe) (official title Gun Position Officer's Assistant) captured a German wireless set in Normandy. It had 2 valves missing but in Belgium he managed to get 2 new valves in a small village shop. So he has fixed it up in our vehicle and whenever we stop near a farm we run out a line and plug in to their electric switch. This is the first time we have been successful in finding a farm with electricity of the right voltage laid on. So we hear music all day here and have heard the news and news summaries. Without mentioning us, the B.B.C. and the news summaries have been mentioning incidents in which we took part. If you follow the events of the British 2nd Army closely you will not find us far behind or in front of the newspaper reports.

At Veghel

Yesterday was not without its unpleasant side. I must be getting superstitious. I had a new battledress which I had been intending to put on for quite a time. Something kept putting me off making the change. I had a feeling that if I discarded my old battledress, the one I have worn since Romsey days, I thought something would happen. Sure enough, I had just got the new trousers on when two enemy shells whistled towards us. I flung myself flat into the hay (inside the barn alongside the command post). The shells landed 50 yards away just in front of one of my guns. One of my sergeants was hit in the back of the neck and came staggering into my barn streaming with blood. We got him off to the M.O. in record time and I think he will be all right, just flesh wounds. We had no more shells, just unlucky with random firing. I have now lost all the Sergeants on the guns that came with me from England.

Stephen Perry was wounded slightly yesterday, too. He will be o.k. in a fortnight. Did I tell you that Bob Kiln was wounded in Antwerp? He is back in Birmingham now, getting on well but will probably take 4 months to get properly well.

I have just received your last letter, Sunday/Monday. Yes, we put our clocks back, as I think I told you in one letter. It had always been a difficulty with the French and Belgians who had single Summer time (and presumably the Germans, so perhaps we were fighting each other at different times! Perhaps that's why we beat them because we got up an hour earlier.)

Glad you received the letter about Normandy. I was afraid the censor might have stopped it. Incidentally have any of my letters ever been censored twice?

Your sweets were a great success and thoroughly enjoyed by the children. I gave half of them to Belgian children at a village called Coursel near Beeringen, and the other half to Dutch children in Eindhoven.

The Americans are collecting clogs. Would you like a pair? (We have just heard the 6 p.m. news saying that our British 2nd Army patrols have crossed the Dutch Rhine That is indeed good news, and has brought a sense of relief to us all. Not only does it mean that the Airborne Troops can now get relief, but it means that our own individual part in the days ahead will not be so hard as we at one time thought.)

September 29th

I will begin this letter now, but doubt whether I shall be able to finish it properly. Also I expect interruptions, so it won't be very coherent. I have received so many letters from you, recently (4 in one day) that I don't know where to begin in answering them. I' ll give you my news first and try and answer your letters after.

We are static now as you have probably gathered from the B.B.C. I suppose we could not expect to go on advancing so rapidly all the time, but it is disappointing nevertheless. It is not the place to discuss strategy. We attempted a bold thing and it almost succeeded. Looking back I don't think anyone would say it ought not to have been attempted. One cannot say what went wrong or what prevented us in succeeding as soon as we hoped. It may well be that we have not finished with this battle and that the last round has still to be fought. Anyway, for the moment, we are apparently sitting tight waiting for the next move.

It is not exactly a quiet time. We fire day and night in spasms, and the night is usually very noisy with A.A. fire, both German and Allied. Heavy stuff, too, which echoes through the woods. The weather has turned cold and cloudy, and this gives the enemy opportunities to send over his planes during the day. We have seen quite a few aerial combats lately, but our fighter umbrella works magnificently. We certainly owe a lot to them for our immunity from direct air attacks.

We are unlucky to be static in this position as it is quite bleak and bare. We have no houses near us nor farms and are entirely dependent on ourselves for warmth and everything. The nights, too, are much longer now and colder, so that adds to the unpleasantness. If you are not on duty, bed is the only place after dark, but I rarely manage to get to bed, even when "off duty" before 10.30 p.m. As we are in our usual role of "front line" troops we have to be up at first light most mornings in case of counter-attacks.

So ends my tale of woe. Apart from all that I am very well although sometimes I feel I could do with a rest. The continual banging and the random shelling gets one down in the end. A gunner can say "I can't stick it any longer" and can then be sent to a rest camp, perhaps back to England (one of my men has just gone to the R.A.P. for that very reason). But an officer must stick on and keep a brave show. I don't pretend to be a hero, far from it, but I guess I can see it through. After all, we have nothing like the infantry for hardships and dangers and they manage to stick it.

September 30th

I am sorry yesterday's letter was such a glum one. I've had a good night's rest and feel much better. We have had a few shells our way this morning but none within a quarter of a mile thank goodness.

Before I do anything else I'm going to answer your letters. You say you saw the news of our entry into Brussels. I think you know by now that our unit did not pass through Brussels. The night it was liberated we were bivouaced several miles NW of Brussels and could see the fires from the city (must have been the Palace of Justice on fire). You ask if I like the B. Tp. men as much as the A. Tp. It is difficult to tell, although I think I have a preference for the A Troop men. However, I have come to know the B Troop men better as time goes on and they are an easy, co-operative crowd if treated sympathetically.

The accordeon has become a casualty owing to rain and I have not had any opportunities of improving my playing.

I have two complete parachutes to bring home. There is some lovely silk material in them, just right for underwear. One green, one pure white. You could make a lovely ballroom dress out of the white one. I hope I get it home safely.


You should have heard by now from Lt. Sheppard, the American Glider Pilot whom I met at Zon, north of Eindhoven. I hope he was able to come and see you, although I doubt it. One of my men has heard from his wife that Lt. Sheppard phoned her, so I'm hoping you heard from him too. I am anxiously waiting your letter to know how you received the news and how much he told you about me. I hope it was a good. report. I was not expecting him to get back quite so soon. The day we left him he told us he had been given the job of looking after the German P.O.W.s. As plenty of prisoners were coming in he looked as though he would be busy for several days.

As for my own news. We had a hot shower bath and change of clothing this morning in the nearest town. It was another mobile bath unit installed in the grounds of a lovely house. I feel a new man. Had not had a bath since the one I had at Beeringen in Belgium.

October 2nd. 11. 30 p.m.


It seems to be getting more difficult than ever to write letters. I used to be able to fit them in to my night duty but even our night duties are becoming as strenuous as the day. The other night, Saturday, we never had a moment's peace, firing at intervals all through the night. It seems as though things are going to be quieter to-night, anyway I'm taking advantage of this period of inactivity to scribble a few lines.

Our nights are very noisy indeed. The very heavy A.A. barrage at night is reminiscent of a London A.A. barrage with the shells bursting nearer the ground. The enemy, too, joins in with his field artillery shelling our wood and our forward infantry. Last night was particularly noisy, artillery duels raging nearly all night. In this wooded area, any noise is magnified by the echoes and every shell burst sounds much closer than it is. Many of the men hardly slept a wink all night. However, to-day I made them dig themselves much deeper into the ground and improvise roofs from the trees. We have had a busy day chopping down young fir trees, trimming off the branches and building stockades and roofs. George Washington had nothing on us to-day. So I think most of them will sleep more soundly to-night. Jerry has been over dropping more bombs on the town but as we are some little way south-east of the town we only hear the explosions and feel the ground shake.

I must have been feeling a bit off colour when I wrote that gloomy letter. Anyway I am feeling better now, mentally and physically.

(Slight pause there while I performed one of the routine jobs. Every 6 hours or so we have to take the temperature of the ammunition, or rather the charges. The colder the charge, the less distance it will fire the shell and we have to make allowances for that in deciding at what range to fire the guns. We also have to make allowances for the wind and air pressure—all these things are known as Meteorological corrections or "Meteor" for short. We receive telegrams 2 or 3 times a day from the Air Ministry through the usual channels giving us information about wind speed/and barometric pressure).

(I have had to interrupt this letter three times already to fire the guns (each time to fire on enemy mortar positions) and it is only 10 minutes past 12. How many more interruptions I shall get I don't know.)

The weather has improved somewhat. We had rain and cold winds over the week-end but have had the sun all day. Now it is very bright moonlight and it would be lovely in the woods if it weren't for the occasional shell which whistles over.

I am so pleased to know Brian Sheppard managed to phone you. It really was decent of him. I asked him to do it for me, then he offered to do the same favour for all my men. There were only about 8 who could give a phone number but he took them all and promised he would spend all Sunday afternoon in the phone booth phoning those numbers. He wouldn't accept any money. Do hope he has found time to call on you. He seemed a bit of a philosopher, but I did not have time to get to know him well.


It is now Tuesday, Oct. 3rd. A fortnight ago to-day we crossed the Dutch border, passed through the cheering crowds at Eindhoven (very colourful pictures everyone wearing orange), and went into action just west of the village of Son (or Zon), a few miles north of Eindhoven. Our job was to support the American airborne troops who had landed on Sunday to protect the supply lines to our leading troops. Our gun position was right on the edge of the huge field where the gliders had landed. It was an astonishing sight when we arrived to see all these gliders strewn haphazard all over the field, at various angles. Some with their noses in the edges of the woods bordering the field, some had crashed, others had their noses raised high in the air There they had been opened to unload Jeeps and equipment.

In the wood, we found the glider pilots who were glad to see us. They told us they were waiting to go back to England as their job was finished. Unlike the British pilots, the Americans do not take part in any fighting.

We had a bit of a scare the evening we arrived, when the enemy attacked the canal bridge at Son, and temporarily cut us off. We had tanks with us and between us we beat off the attack. That evening, while talking to some of the pilots, I noticed the badge on their arm and recognised it as the one all the Americans wear around Reading. So I asked them if they knew Reading and of course they did. Very well. They looked on Reading as a second home and had many friends there. It was most tantalising to hear them discussing how they were going to get back to Reading the next day!

As you know, we stayed there until the Friday morning. On Wed. and Thurs. we had the amazing sight of watching more and more of our sky trains bringing over troops and supplies. On each day, more gliders and parachutists landed on the field in front of our gun position. It was a remarkable sight to watch the parachutists tumble out and come floating down before our eyes. Everyone anxiously scanning the skies to see if any parachute failed to open. Not one failed. The gliders were not so lucky. They ran into some A.A. fire and we saw one or two crash. There was nothing we could do.

On Thursday we saw one of the sky trains on the journey home attacked by enemy fighters. There was an air battle overhead and we saw three of the transport planes shot down in flames. An awe-inspiring sight.

Thursday morning, before I was up, the glider pilots began moving off to make their way back. The idea of getting them to phone you up had only occurred to me during the night so I had a frantic dash round to find the few I had spoken to. They had already gone. In desperation, I approached a Lieut. His party had come from Bristol, but he offered to phone you, so I gave him your number. A little later I discovered some more men wearing the badge and one of them was Sheppard, just going to move away. He offered to do it immediately, so I gave him an envelope of one of your letters and wrote your address and number on it.

Later he came back and said they could not get transport that day and had to await further orders. So I saw him once or twice during the day, but not for long.

On the Friday, we moved off in a great hurry, as German tanks had cut the supply route further north and we were wanted urgently to help drive them off. So I did not get a chance of saying farewell to Sheppard. My actual message to Sheppard about the mail was, that as we were in this particular role of defending the supply routes, and likely to be cut off from time to time, our letters home would be delayed, but you were not to worry.

October 5th


We have at last got two days relief from firing. I cannot call it a rest, it's the usual maintenance to be done, also it is not in a very quiet area. As a matter of fact we are parked alongside a heavy A.A. battery. They haven't fired yet, but the nights are bound to be very noisy.

However, we are inside four walls and have a little more protection from the weather and the enemy. Also, we are away from the immediate fighting and shelling area. There was some heavy shelling last night within a hundred yards of our gun position and for a time we lay shivering with fright in our beds wondering whether the enemy would increase their range. They did not come any nearer, thank goodness, so we did not suffer any casualties.

While we were in the wood, we built ourselves a little log cabin. Rather a crude affair, I don't think Robinson Crusoe would have deigned to live in it. However, with earth piled up around the low walls it gave us protection from any blast and shrapnel and a rather rickety roof gave us "moral" shelter from any falling A.A. shell splinters and nose caps. So in the end we made ourselves fairly secure against anything but a direct hit. It also made things warmer for us, but it is unbelievably cold early in the mornings. I hope by the time winter sets in we shall have warmer quarters. It is not too bad in bed, however, and I suppose we shall have to spend as much time in bed as possible!

All the Battery have been smoking German cigars this week, 20 a man was the issue. They were captured in a train at the station of this town by the Americans.

You say Bob is lucky. Well, in many ways he is, but we have just heard that he has had to lose his leg after all, which is a rotten shame. Stephen is now back in England and probably more fortunate than Bob. We are still waiting for Major Loveday to arrive.

Am afraid must close this in a hurry to catch the mail. I had an opportunity to visit the radio-location site attached to the A.A. battery and had a fascinating time watching the green waves on the television showing the presence of enemy planes. The radar showed two planes while we were there, one came within 2000 yards of the position but went off without any hostility.

October 8th. 4. 30 a.m.

It is a quiet night, after all, so I have ample time to write you a letter. The light is not too good, however, only 6 volts as compared with the 230 volts you get in your electric light. However, I'm sitting right underneath the light (taken from a wrecked glider) and can see fairly well.

We have gone back to the days of sitting in deep holes in the ground so you can see how static this part of the front has become. This is a bigger hole than we have had before, however. While we were in the town for 48 hours maintenance, our gun position was occupied by some American gunners and they dug a beautiful command post and put a log roof over their heads. They did not expect us back. Lack of organisation somewhere from which we have benefited. The Yanks also managed to get some straw from somewhere to lay on the floor and it is certainly warmer inside this hole than in our vehicle which we use as a Command Post normally.

We expect to be here several days and do not expect much to happen in those few days. Yesterday and the day before we saw the great procession of Lancaster 4-engined bombers going in to bomb places behind the German front. The actual bombing was some distance from us, too far away for us to hear the bombs explode or see them fall but after they had left we could see the most terrifying sight of a huge great black cloud of smoke rising higher and higher over the distant trees. When the last bombers passed over, the top of the cloud was almost as high above the ground as the bombers and they flew in at a great height.

What the hell must have been like down below one fails to imagine. We know now what a 1000 bomber raid looks like from a distance. There was a terrifying moment when one bomber was hit by an A.A. shell and exploded in mid-air. It was too far away and too high for us to hear the explosion, but it must have been terrific. One moment there was a bomber, flying along with many others. The next was a crimson and yellow ball of fire which disappeared into black ball of smoke rapidly growing into a dark cloud in the clear sky. That dark cloud hung in the sky for some time but we saw no signs of wreckage. Everything must have disintegrated in a split second.

Friday afternoon I had a few hours to spare and had anticipated seeing a film. The Services had established two magnificent clubs in the town, one for Officers, one for other ranks. They were converted hotels, and beside the usual lounges there were games rooms, a concert room, a ball room and a cinema in each. Other officers had been and reported that the film "This Happy Breed" was showing this week and naturally when I received your letter I decided I must see the film, if only to have another link with you. Imagine my disappointment when I find the club had just closed. Both clubs had been closed until further notice because of enemy shelling. The enemy are shelling the town with long range guns and making things too unpleasant.

I thought I would have a look at the centre of the town but the arrival of some more enemy shells made me change my mind. The centre of the town is beginning to look like Stalingrad. So I turned back, found a hairdresser who was still carrying on and got a reasonable hair cut, for 75 Dutch cents (about 1/5d). No shampoo as the barber said something about no electricity although in the building where we lived for 2 nights we had electric light.

On the way back to our barracks I was approached by a youth who asked me in French if I wanted any bread. I didn't, particularly, but I assented to find out what would happen. The next was an enquiry for cigarettes explaining "For four years, Dutch no smoke". So I parted with 5 cigs (I always carry a small stock not to smoke but for such occasions as these and he led me to the back entrance of a bakery. After a few words with a friend of his and parting with another cigarette for the friend I was handed a lovely new brown malt loaf, much enjoyed later in the Officers Mess! There was a girl in the bakery who asked me for chocolate. That is scarce these days.

While talking about food, reminds me I wanted to tell you about the children. Although we have not noticed any obvious starvation or undernourishment we have noticed, especially in Belgium and Holland that many of the children are suffering from skin diseases. Many children have scabs and sores on their arms and legs and faces, but I cannot say what the cause is. Many of my men have remarked on it.

The people of this town are living a shelter life these days and the scenes round our barracks (where there are many underground shelters) reminded one of London's East End during the blitz, with odd pieces of bedding and furniture standing in the sun outside the entrance to the shelter, lines of washing hung round the entrance and over the top, men and women and children sitting around aimless. Certainly these people will be glad to see the tide of war surge forward at an early opportunity.

October 9th

I have not much news for you to-day. Things are very quiet indeed. It is quite an event if we have to fire our guns and when we do it is usually just to quieten some enemy mortars which are causing a disturbance.

(The German mortar and its 6-barrelled version—the Nebelwerfer—is the most annoying of all the German weapons and possibly the most feared. It is popularly known as "Moaning Minnie" because of the peculiarly whistling noise it makes when the mortar bombs are fired. I can only describe it as a noise like a Tank in pain, but that probably doesn't convey much to you who are not so familiar with tanks as we are.)

We had to reorganise our cooking arrangements to-day. Up till now we have let each gun crew of 7 men cook their own food. It has been convenient in many ways, partly because with compo rations (which we still get) it is easy to split a 14-man pack into 2 lots of 7, or even issue one pack to each crew to last them 2 days. All very simple. The remainder of the troop were fed by the troop cook. This arrangement works very well when we are on the move. It is easy for 7 men to get a meal more quickly than for 50 men, besides all the difficulties of issuing hot food when we are moving around.

Many times since D-day the Colonel has tried to get me to cook on a Troop basis, one cook doing for the 50 odd men. We have tried this arrangement each time he told us and each time the men have been dissatisfied with the result and have asked to be allowed to cook for themselves; a) they like cooking for themselves, it gives them something to do, b) after 5 years in the Army they have learned, to cook for themselves and many have been butchers or some such trade and know about cooking, c) each gun crew manages to acquire little extra delicacies and foodstuffs through their own hospitality with the civilians and their own ingenuity. They like to be able to cook these extras with their army food and sometimes they have cooked themselves some very good meals, d) If they cook themselves they can always manage to save a little food for use when things get short, supplies fail to arrive on time, or to have an extra large hot meal on cold wet days.

Anyway they really like it, and are much happier cooking for themselves, for one thing they do know they are getting their fair share of the rations. I have tried repeatedly to explain all this to the Colonel and last week I tried again when he questioned me about the Troop cooking arrangements. But he became very annoyed, said we were the only Troop disobeying his orders, said it stood to reason that men must be better fed when rations are cooked in bulk. His final shot was that if the men did not like Troop Cooking it must be because of bad organisation in the Troop Cookhouse:

So to-day we went on to Troop cooking, with many glum faces from the men. At least they know I have tried hard to let them cook for themselves.

However, that is one of the minor trials of warfare.

Am enclosing some souvenirs of the currency we have been issued with. It is most complicated to know how much money one possesses, but we have at last managed to change all our money into Dutch currency.

1 Guilder = 1/10½d.

10 Belgian Francs = l/ld approx.

2 French Francs = 2½d approx.

That is their English equivalent but they have different values in exchange from one currency to another.

October 11th

I feel very refreshed. Had a hot shower this morning, followed by a cold one and then a swim followed by another hot shower. If I'm not clean after all that, I shall never be clean again. We used the town swimming baths, very modern with every convenience. No costumes needed despite having female attendant (it was quite decent, there was a solid wooden wall between the attendants and the swimming bath!). After the bath, walked back to the gun position with Harry, hoping to get a lift back. But we were unlucky and walked all the way. However, it was a fine morning, sunny autumnal weather and for our pains we collected several fresh walnuts (they were handed to us by a Dutch boy).

Yesterday was a miserable day and night, so miserable that I could not muster any enthusiasm to write. It rained hard all day and rained harder than ever at night. At first our roof did not leak and we began to congratulate ourselves on keeping dry. But as the day wore on, first one drip started, then another, until by night time the roof was leaking like a sieve, with the wet straw underfeet squelching every time one moved around. I had my bed in the Command Post, it being my turn for night duty. There were few leaks over my bed space so I decided the dryest spot was in bed.

I was just dozing off into a lovely sleep when I felt a damp cold patch in the middle of my back. I sat up. My pyjamas were wet and to my horror I noticed I was lying in a small pool of water! Investigation showed that the rain had run down the inside wall of the Command Post, splashed on to my bed and had run under my valise. As my bed is waterproof the water could not run away and lay in a big pool under my valise. It had soaked through the valise, the valise blanket and 4 thicknesses of blanket!

I jumped out quickly and emptied the water off my bed, hopping around all the time as the rain was dripping down my neck and on to my bare feet. I put on my leather jerkin over my pyjamas, put one of the top blankets over the wet ones and slept between the top blankets and managed to get some sleep. Fortunately the rain stopped about 3.0 a.m. this morning and to-day there has been a warm drying wind.

You will be pleased to know we are going to have about 10 days rest (maintenance, etc.) beginning from lunch-time to-morrow. We are hoping to be billeted in houses but shall know more definitely to-morrow.

I have been reading, these last few days, the Penguin book "With Mystics and Magicians in Tibet", by Alexandra-David-Neel. It is a fascinating book and gives a wonder insight into the Tibetan mind. I used to be very interested in Tibet, still am, but this book has made me change my mind somewhat. So much of their so-called philosophy appears to be based on folk-lore and myths, national myths, that one cannot give their philosophy so much weight. The myths, however, have such a personal flavour, that they make very interesting psychological studies. The Tibetans seem to live in a crazy dream world, peopled by very "real" (to them) demons and ogres and devils, an amazing variety full of the most ingenious tricks and magic. Such an atmosphere of mind can only be the result of their weird environment and isolation, but I fail to understand why a people which has to face so many of nature's hardships and extremes has to imagine more difficult and more dangerous hardships in an "imaginary" world. Their life is surely difficult enough without making it more difficult. A conversion of spirit and the modernisation of science are urgently needed in Tibet. However, I have not finished the book and must not judge too harshly. The book itself is excellent.

My very patient St. Stow spent all Sunday repairing the accordeon and now it is as good as new. It only wanted a good dry out.

Am not expecting any more mail to arrive until we move, so I will send this off to-night, so that it will be clear of the muddle when we move. I suppose there will be the usual parades, etc., and training to be done but we are hoping they will have some sense and make part of the time at least a real rest.

Am glad to say that so far the Troop cooking arrangements are working satisfactorily. Now that the men realise there is no possibility of going back to the old arrangement they have resigned themselves to make the best of the new one.

In fact our evening meal should almost be ready now, so I will close to go and inspect it before it is served out.

The envelope is German, captured in a train at this town.

October 15th


I have at last got a few moments to sit down and write you a few lines. As always when we come out of the line for a "rest", the first few days are chaotic and unpleasant. We are gradually settling down but it is taking longer this time. The men are beginning to hate "rest" periods because we do such a lot of old and uninteresting things. This time they are making the training and maintenance even more extensive and we are organising our days on similar lines to our training days in England.

Our normal day is as follows:–

Reveille 06.30 hrs.

P. T. 07.00 – 07.30 hrs.

Breakfast 08.45

Lecture 09.00 – 09.45

Marching and Rifle Drill 09.45 – 10.45

Break 10.45 – 11.15

Gun Drill 11.15 – 12.30 p.m.

Dinner 12.45 – 14.00

Maintenance 14.00 – 17.00

Tea 17.30.

By that time it is dark and there is nowhere to go except bed.

Our billets are very scattered and the men certainly are not very comfortable. They sleep in the barns adjoining these Dutch farms. Often there are animals in the same barn and the men of my troop are sleeping with the pigs! They have straw on the ground and a roof over their heads, but that is all the comfort consists of. The houses and barns are fitted for electricity but the power house is still in enemy hands. So for lights we rely on paraffin lamps of which there are not many. The W.C.s are very crude and we have to dig our own still, in the farmyards. Sidney Kilbraier, Ron Dorey (now Capt.) and myself sleep on the top storey of a large farmhouse. We share this storey with two R.A.S.C. officers in charge of the petrol store nearby. At the eastern end of the storey there are two cubicles each fitted with a bed and a table. Ron has one and I the other, so we can shut ourselves in and get seclusion. Each cubicle has its own window and I can see the dawn each morning as I rise to do P.T. From the window I can see a cross roads quite close, with a farm on one corner and opposite a little grove in which stands a crucifix. But more of the scenery and view later. There are a few windmills around and we have seen them turning merrily recently in the south-westerly winds.

The two RASC officers are quite young and pleasant and as they boast a wireless set we are going out of our way to be pleasant to them. Anyway we have offered to recharge their accumulators for them, so they are pleasant to us in exchange. We don't see much of each other, both they and us are busy all day.

Returning to our training programme. We have had some reinforcements sent to us and we have to train them and this can only be done by going back to first principles with everybody and training all together. Very annoying and very wearying trying to make the "old" gunners see this.

The programme of course has been much too hurriedly started. If they had only given us two clear days to get reorganised, cleaned up and our kit sorted out all would have been well. Instead, they try to make us start this training programme the morning we arrive and carry on the cleaning up, etc., at the same time. Which means that nothing gets done.

However, no more grumbles. I expect things will shake down soon.

Gen. Horrocks

One interesting thing was a lecture by our Corps Commander to the Officers of the division on the recent battles in which he explained many things which were obscure to us at the time. He gave a very interesting and amusing lecture, praising the division "No other Div. in the Army could have done what your Div. did" and praising the artillery "This Division has the finest artillery in the whole British Army". Also he gave us an appreciation of our future operations and role, finishing up with the warning, not to put too high hopes on being home for Christmas!

Incidentally, our Colonel has received a congratulatory letter from Gen. Dempsey, C. in C. of the 2nd Army. It was a personal letter in his own handwriting, thanking the Regt. for the part they played in defeating the enemy at Veghel where the supply line was cut. We were directly responsible for saving the bridge there and for protecting the American airborne troops who were sorely pressed. The message particularly applies to our Battery as we were the first to engage the enemy, or rather, we fought off the first and heaviest attack. Our other battery (342) took the brunt of the second attack after we had pushed on.

We have received the A.B.C.A. pamphlet on the demobilisation plan which is cruelly entitled "Show me the way to go home."! I have studied it very carefully and while I agree the scheme sounds very fair and practical I feel it is going to take quite a time for any individual to get out of the Army, especially officers. However, things may turn out better than I hope.

Well, I have some clerical work to do before tea, then I hope to visit the Officers Club in the neighbouring town. Probably be crowded out to-night, but it will be a break.

October 17th

Have not much news for you. Things are settling down but still a little unorganised. We have now finished all our checks of kit and equipment and placed our requisitions for replacements. Whether or not we shall get new tools, etc., to replace the missing or damaged equipment is another matter. We are for ever making out these lists but nothing ever seems to turn up.

As you have read from the papers we are badly in need of a good Channel port for the winter. Antwerp is the key to the whole future campaign now and I doubt whether there will be much activity this way until the Antwerp situation is cleared up. Perhaps things may alter quickly, but that's how they look to me just now,

Sunday evening most of the officers went into the Officers Club at the neighbouring town. Very little to do there except drink, smoke and talk. I had one drink, read the latest Times (Saturday's) from end to end, talked a bit with Ron and then it was time to come home. At least, the supply of drinks ran out at 8.45 p.m. so there was no incentive for anyone to stay.

The place was packed with officers. Only one woman, a member of ENSA, who seemed to be the focus of all eyes.

Had no opportunity to write yesterday, the mail was censored and despatched before I had a breathing space. Have been explaining the demobilisation scheme to the men of B Troop. We are not going to get out so quickly and easily as we at first thought. The ABCA pamphlet is cruelly entitled "Show me the Way to go Home."! The men said "We don't need any showing"!

To-day I went back to Son to try and collect some parts off the broken gliders. However, other people seem to have had the same ideas and there is not much left of the badly wrecked gliders. Many have been salvaged and are being patched up to fly again.

Thinking of Arnhem reminds me of the typical German impudence. The R.A.S.C. officers often have the wireless programme of the Allied Expeditionary Force on their set. Every time the announcer announces the beginning of the news, the A.E.F. programme is cut out completely by an announcer, in perfectly good English, saying, "This is Radio Arnhem. You will now hear a programme of continuous dance music". Then follows some really popular records of English jazz and light music. As soon as the news is finished on the A.E.F. programme, the German station announces very coolly "We will now take you back to the B.B.C. programme where you will hear . . . ." and then they announce the next programme on the A.E.F. wavelength and fade you back in. Very coolly impudent. Sometimes, but only occasionally, they add a few words of propaganda.)

So the F.A.U. were the first British to enter Paris. I'm very glad to hear it. May they be the first into Berlin, too.

Regarding Bob, we now hear that he is making a good recovery and has not lost his leg after all. Difficult to know what to believe as I have not seen any of his letters.

No, we have none of our original majors or captains left in the Battery. Of the Regt. as a whole we have only 1 Major and 5 Captains. So you can see I am not in a hurry to become a Captain. There are still many Subalterns senior to me in the Regt. who are due for promotion before me.

It is very windy and wet and cold here now and I am very glad we are not in action.

Sidney Kilbraier went to Antwerp to-day on 48 hours leave. It was a toss-up whether he or I went, so I stood down and let him go. He is younger then I and will probably get more fun out of Antwerp then I would. I also feel I don't want to have leave until most of my men have had an opportunity of leave. We can only send one officer and 8 men per Troop which is not much. So perhaps I shall go another time. If there had been any chance of going to Brussels, for the 48 hrs. leave I might have taken it because then I would have tried hard to fly home from Brussels! But we had to go to Antwerp or nowhere.

October 19th

Just a few lines. There seems so little time to write letters here in this so-called rest camp, Yesterday I had to go a long road journey in a fruitless effort to locate two of our men and a tank in a rear workshops. We found the workshops o.k. but the men and the tank had left for a new location the day before. So it was rather a waste of time. We did not get back until 7.30 p.m. Then, after a meal, the B.C. and 2 other officers persuaded me to play bridge. As usual, the game did not finish until nearly midnight, and even then we agreed to finish before the "rubber" had been completely played through.

To-day has been fine in between some very heavy showers. We played football this afternoon, our Troop lost to C Troop 4-1. Every other Battery except ours brought all its Sports Kit over. Somehow ours got left behind and in consequence we have to play in makeshift clothing and ordinary boots. So we find it difficult to stand up and run about on wet fields in studless boots. However, it provides amusement and interest.

In spite of all our training programmes we don't manage to get much work done, in fact essential jobs are being pushed aside. Very soon I can see we shall be very rushed.

We have been here a week now, and should have another week at least. I cannot see us doing any real activity until round about my birthday. The weather is shocking on the whole and we are very thankful we are not in the line.

The Black-out handicaps our enjoyment. We have to stay in at night, otherwise we would soon get lost. To-morrow night we are arranging a Brains Trust for the men. I hope they will support it, but they are somewhat apathetic over such things. They have the wireless fitted into each farmhouse and so get some entertainment that way. Otherwise the evenings are spent in bed or writing letters.

The men can get trips to the cinema and Ensa shows during the day, but owing to the training programme the officers have to be on duty all day and get no opportunities like that. However, I suppose our life is a little more bearable than theirs. I should certainly hate marching and rifle drill which they have to do each day for an hour.

October 20th

To-day has been fine but cold and windy with a tendency to showers. It will probably rain to-night. We are holding a Brains Trust this evening but I doubt whether it will be a success if it rains. We are so scattered that it is difficult to find your way around at nights. However, we are holding it in the men's dining room, and they ought to know where that is. However, we shall see what a success we can make of it. The other officers are not very encouraging which makes things more difficult.

You ask me if we are in the attack on the Maas. You probably know now that we are not. For your guidance you might find it easier to know where I am if you remember that we are usually near the front and near the centre of an advance. The fighting on the flanks is usually not our business. This is not an easy rule or even the general rule, but it will do when you are in doubt and certainly should help you if and when we return to the attack.

It is not easy to write in the Mess. My Troop Commander is sitting next me and I don't know how much of my writing he can decipher. There is only one light, an oil lamp, on the table, surrounded by the remnants of the tea!

I have to go, soon, to make arrangements for this Brains Trust, see whether the room is lit and blacked out. Don't suppose there will be a fire!

Fuel, incidentally is very scarce in Holland and was in Belgium. I meant to tell you when we first arrived at Windebrook, just south of Antwerp. When we arrived on our gun position on the fields and allotments just west of the town we found many of the townspeople in the fields. The Germans had planted poles and tree trunks in the fields to prevent planes from landing (as we did in England). The people were cutting down these poles and trunks and carting them away in barrows, etc. for fuel. There were a lot of disputes about whose pole belonged to whom and some of our officers were called in to arbitrate. The following day, more parties of men and women and children were on the fields digging up the stumps of the poles and trunks buried below the ground. And some of them needed a lot of digging to get them out.

October 22nd

I' ll begin this now while waiting for our mid-day meal (shan't get much written, Sydney Kilbraier is sitting on his bed reading "Candide" and occasionally reads passages aloud to me. It is in English or rather American because it is one of a series of paper backed books issued by the U.S. Govt. for the Armed Forces. More of these anon, as we have several of these very excellent books added to our Battery library). There is not a great deal to do today. The morning has been fine and sunny but it has clouded over again and become cooler. It looks like being a lazy afternoon with a possible visit to the Divisional Club and cinema this evening.

I went to the cinema last night—but thereby hangs a tale, so I had better begin at the beginning. I was driven into the town where the Div. Club is situated in a 15 cwt. truck belonging to the Battery. Archie Birrell was driving. He, Sydney Kilbraier and John Craston were going to the Corps Club at the other end of the town with the fixed intention of drinking as much as they could. I didn't want to join them so got off at the Div. Club and told them not to worry about picking me up on the return journey. It was only about 2½ miles to walk back and if it was a fine night I might manage a hitch.

I did not know what film was showing but by luck it turned out to be "This Happy Breed". I wanted to see it so badly since you had seen it so I was in luck: That was not the beginning of my good luck as it turned out.

It was a fine night when I came out of the cinema at 9.30, but was fortunate to find waiting outside the cinema a 3-ton lorry which had brought a party of men from the Regt. into the show. So I decided to ride back in this lorry.

We had gone ½ mile down the road when the driver and I suspected a flat tyre. He pulled into the side of the road under an avenue of trees and we examined the wheels. The off side back wheel, i.e. the one nearest the centre of the road was punctured. It was too far to run on a flat tyre, the rubber was already very hot, so I told the men to dismount and walk back—except two whom I kept to help the driver change the wheel.

All went well until we almost had the new wheel in position ready to screw on the nuts. I had my back to the lorry's engine, facing down the road towards the oncoming traffic. I remember looking up and seeing the lights of a car coming straight at us. I was kneeling down at the time. I gave a shout, jumped up backwards and almost immediately after I saw the oncoming car smash into the back of the lorry by the offside wheel. I fell over backwards in a backward somersault. The force of the crashing car carried it on and pushed the lorry off its jack and the bumper, as the car was coming to rest, caught me in the middle of the back in the middle of my somersault and gently pushed me over. I finished up almost in a low kneeling position with my head and shoulders underneath the bumper, my mackintosh over my head with the tail of it pinned underneath the offside front wheel. I crawled out of my mackintosh leaving it on the ground and picked myself up, adjusting my spectacles which had only slipped off one ear.

Imagine my surprise when I heard John Craston's voice shouting "Archie, Archie, are you all right?"! I was perfectly o.k. (still am, except my elbows are a bit bruised and a very slight scratch on the top of my head and not even shaken). I soon realised of course that it was the same 15 cwt truck carrying Archie and John Craston. Archie was sitting in the driver's seat moaning and complaining about his arm hurting. Sydney Kalbraier appeared o.k. (I learnt later he had been travelling behind in a Jeep with an American officer and their Jeep had pulled up in time). A motorcyclist was passing so I stopped him and got him to give me a pillion ride to our first Aid Post, got the ambulance sent down to the accident and arranged for the recovery vehicle to pull the vehicles to our workshops.

To cut a long story short. Archie had a simple fracture of his right arm and several cuts on the face. John had some glass in a cut under his eye. Both were pretty shaken although they didn't show it much at first. The driver and the two men who were helping on the wheel had narrow escapes and managed to jump clear in time.

John and Archie were immediately sent off to the Casualty Station. Archie will most certainly be sent to England but John should be out in a day or two. The American officer in the Jeep was very drunk and spent the night on Sydney Kalbraier's bed (he was being brought to our Mess to sleep for the night).

It was quite obvious to all concerned that Archie had had too much to drink and wasn't capable of driving properly at night. On the other hand, there was probably some excuse for him as one of the men was probably standing in front of the rear lamp. Anyway, we shall do our best to smooth things over. In many ways he is very lucky as he looks like being at home for Xmas. I nearly was—on the other hand I nearly wasn't! I do not know who had the luckiest escape, Archie or myself. Archie, certainly, ought to have been killed by the look of the driver's cabin this morning.

Stephen sent me a letter which arrived yesterday. He is in hospital still at Monmouth, but is getting on well and hopes to be allowed out soon. He is moaning because he has not been allowed out and not had an opportunity to go home. He expects to go to Woolwich where all the recuperated officers are posted, but not until after some leave.

I thoroughly enjoyed the film last night, my first since Romsey days. Like you, I could have made my own selection of events for the Cavalcade, some of Noel Coward's seemed rather trite. His people, too, were a little common (or rather the speech was). but it is just that common touch that makes the film authentic. It was very much appreciated by the audience and their comments were interesting. There was a terrific burst of ironic laughter when the opening scenes spoke of demobilisation! There were also murmurs of sympathy for the returned soldier, when, after 4 years in the trenches he returned home to family squabbles and disputes! I was disappointed in the ending which seemed as if the authors and directors had run out of ideas and brought the film to a close. I am doubtful, even now, whether the film will be understood and properly appreciated by foreigners. It is an attempt to interpret and explain to the foreigners some of the background and reasons for our attitude to foreign affairs during 1919–1939. But the film is both typically British in composition and production, that even in the production too much is taken for granted, too much glossed over. The lack of emphasis does not drive home to the un-British the essential lessons to be learnt from the study of our social and economic history of those two decades.

But apart from all this I enjoyed the film.

Your letter 49 arrived yesterday. An glad to know you know I am out of the line. I have been booked for Orderly Officer next Sunday so if things go well we should have at least another 7 days here.

I will leave this letter open in case any letters arrive this afternoon. In the meantime I want to write to Stephen Perry and then a letter for a Gunner, he had never written a letter before he came into the Army and he only writes to his wife. The letter is one of thanks to his firm who sent a P.O. for 10/-d from the Social Club.

October 23rd

There is not much news to-day. Am not feeling any after effects of the accident.

October 24th

The post went before I got far with this letter. I was then dragged in to play Bridge until about 10 p.m. So did not get any opportunity to finish this last night. This afternoon I went "looting" from wrecked gliders to obtain wood and simplex glass for windows for my truck. We are making improvements to the interior to make it warmer and more comfortable for the winter. When we have finished the interior will look more like a caravan than a "George" truck (it is called a George truck because its code lettering is GB—G for George in phonetics, B for Baker—the code meaning the G.P.O.'s truck of B Troop!).

I hope you have not been thinking I am in this attack on Hertogenbosch. We can hear the distant gunfire but we are still in our rest area. Things seem to be going well if slowly.

We have now our own wireless set. It is a battery worked set, therefore we are not dependent on outside sources of electricity. Our own wireless batteries will work the set so we are in clover. We were able to buy 4 sets for the Regt. from Philips Radio Factory at Eindhoven. Practically every unit in the 2nd Army has now been able to purchase one of these sets. They cost £12.10. and are very good.

I hear that flying bombs are now landing in Belgium (Antwerp area chiefly).

Have you heard of the League of Lonely German women? I have recently seen a document or rather a translated copy of a document, issued, or purported to be issued by this organisation. The league guarantee to give the German soldier home on leave a soft bed, a soft pillow and real healthy pleasure!

"The German women know their duty to their gallant soldiers.


It advises all soldiers on leave to display a copy of the league's badge and they will then be met by a member of the league who will fulfil all the dreams they have dreamed on the lonely nights!

The document has caused considerable comment in the Mess, not all of it unfavourable to the idea!

I'm not going to play Bridge to-night. I'm going to bed to read. Have fixed a small electric lamp over my bed and can now read in bed.

When Hertogenbosch is captured we hope to have electric light in every room in every farm!

October 25th

To-morrow I am off to Antwerp for 48 hours leave: Quite unexpected. We had an extra allotment of officers for the leave party and I got the chance. It looks as though everybody will get a chance of 48 hours leave before we move off from here. If that is true it looks as though we shall be here for quite a time. In any case, we shall not move before the week-end.

Two months to Xmas. We shall have to move quickly if this War is to be over by Xmas.

My first job when I get to Antwerp will be to look up the aero-drome if it is still there.

I still hope to get a lift in a plane and come home. That would be a swell 48 hours leave, but it seems too good a dream to come true.

I've no idea what to do in Antwerp. Sydney Kalbraier went to a private house just outside. He had a very pleasant but quiet time. I look like going to the Officers Club in the centre of the city, so there should be plenty of "life".

To-day has been quiet, maintenance all day and I have been doing a little painting, etc., to improve my truck.

Tydeman persuaded a local craftsman to make 2 pairs of clogs, small size, rather toys than children's. They have been painted and look very sweet, with the words "Holland 1944" painted on each. They cost 40 cigs a pair and as my cigarettes had been issued free to me, they really cost me nothing. I don't know how to get them home, but shall try to send them by parcel post.

All other officers have just gone out leaving me alone in the Mess, the first time for many a day. I have the radio to myself and everything is pleasant. The mails however, will be going soon, so I cannot continue writing this letter for long.

I will write to you from Antwerp, at least I intend to. But if you don't hear from me for two days you will know the reason. Have had no mail to-day. The mail truck has broken down some miles away and the Regt.'s mail has not yet been delivered.

October 27th. Antwerp

Since arriving I have done nothing but try to get home to you. But now all hope has been abandoned for the time. My only enemy has been the weather. It has been misty and overcast ever since I arrived yesterday afternoon and there are no planes able to leave for England. A few were leaving this afternoon but the pilots refused to take any passengers under any circumstances. Anyway I had a most interesting time everywhere trying to get a lift to England, as you will hear.

There is so much to tell, but I will stick to the essentials and fill in the details later. We (Dan Carr, a new Captain in 462 Battery) arrived yesterday lunch-time and soon found this Hotel, which is being used as our Corps Rest Centre for officers. We were greeted with the news that we had come a day too soon. The officers already here had had their leave extended from 48 hours to 72 hours and so there was no accommodation. The extension had been notified to all units to delay the next party by 24 hours, but the notice never reached our unit in time. The officer in charge, however, promised to give us accommodation providing no other new officers arrived during the day. (No others came so we settled in here for the night. We cannot leave, now, until mid-day Sunday, so in effect we have had our leave extended by 24 hours.)

So in the afternoon Dan and I drove to the Air Port. We got in ridiculously easily, travelling in our 3-ton lorry which had brought us from Grave. We were directed to a certain official and had a most friendly and helpful chat. He invited us to tea at his mess and we discussed ways and means. The chief difficulties are not this end, they are in England, especially on the return journey. What he told me I cannot disclose, but it gave me great hope. But of course, it was not flying weather and I had to reluctantly give up hope until this morning.

Last night Dan and I had a most excellent meal here then went to the Officers Club near the Railway Station, another hotel. We sat near the entrance to the bar and café, had a drink or two and were just on the point of leaving when a Captain passed us, stopped and stared at me, then came across and said he recognised me. His face had a familiar look but I could not place him. When I told him my Regt. he said he had known the Regt. in Yorks, but as the Regt. left Yorkshire before I joined it, he could not have known me there. Anyway we both felt we knew each other. He was in a hurry to go, but before he went I asked him his job. I cannot tell you that now, but it was something to do with the aerodrome! I was in luck, so I immediately said "Can you get me home?" "Look me up in the morning," he said, "and I' ll see what I can do."

So this morning, off to the aerodrome I go. After a few enquiries I found him fairly easily despite the fact that I had mis-heard his name the evening before! I found myself asking for quite a different person!

he'd already made enquiries for me, but re-affirmed the doubts about the weather. Then we began talking and we soon discovered why we knew each other. We were at school together!

He was a term, or possibly a year or more ahead of me at school, but we had both been in the same house, Watling, and played Rugby etc. together. As I left school in 1934 it must be at least 11 years since I saw him!

So we had coffee together in the Officers Club and talked about school pals we both knew. He cannot do anything for me now, because of the weather, but he will be most useful to know if the occasion does arise and I can get leave. He has promised to send you a wire from me and I hope to get a parcel sent to you over the weekend.

In the meantime, Dan and I are enjoying Antwerp and all the entertainments, of which more anon. We are really having an excellent leave, strictly bachelor at the moment. We have just seen the film "For Whom the Bell Tolls", a lovely film.

October 29th


You will see I am back again after a really enjoyable leave in Antwerp. If you have already received the letter I wrote from 14, Van Eycklei, you may have noticed that I mentioned the town from which I had left. I am now back at that town, in the same billets, and same plans.

We had a very quick journey back, but even then it took over 4 hours and it was quite tiring. I did not drive, read the map all the way. (I do not trust myself to driving when I have other people with me).

I won't attempt to tell you in this letter all that happened at Antwerp. I will do that later when I have my pen and have settled down. At the moment I have not had time to collect my thoughts.

So I will just give you the bare details before the post goes. I have told you how I was unlucky in getting a plane home, and how I went to see "For whom the Bell tolls". In the evening Dan Carr and I went to the Officers Club and then on to the Cabaret Follies hoping to see some Night Life! With much disappointment we came away at 10.30 and went to bed.

Saturday morning I changed my Dutch money into Belgian then spent the rest of the day shopping, enjoying myself immensely. More of that anon. I have a very special present for you and it will not spoil it if I tell you now. I only hope it arrives safely. I made a record and am sending you my voice! Don't expect too much from it, because I found it extremely difficult to know what to say for 7 minutes! I did not recognise my voice when it was played back to me, so don't expect to recognise it when you hear it. I did my best to make it interesting, but one really wants to have practice at the microphone before making a record. I have not yet sent it off as I must get a box to pack it in. Don't be too disappointed if it breaks on the way home, because it is a risky business and parcels are not treated kindly. But I hope for your sake it arrives intact. I have some other presents in a separate parcel which will help to make up for any disappointment with the record.

I shall have to close, as it is time for censoring.

October 30th

This is the 2nd time to-day I have begun this letter. Most difficult to write as we are under orders for a possible move. I doubt we shall move but we have to begin preparing for it.

It has been bitterly cold all day, our coldest day so far. I slept very soundly last night, tired after the journey. Missed P.T. because Tydeman forgot to call me, for which I was grateful. Everyone in the Mess seems to have colds or minor illnesses, but I am feeling better than I have felt for many a long day. The change of scenery and routine have made all the difference in the world and I am feeling refreshed mentally and physically.

Flying bombs were rather a drawback. I estimate that about 15 all told, V.1 and V.2 bombs, landed in and around Antwerp while I was there. That is not as bad as London, of course, but Antwerp has not the size of London and so the damage is more concentrated. There is no apparent A.A. defence as yet but there is a wailing siren that operates at night. On Saturday evening, about 6.0, a bomb, possibly a V.2, landed in a square less than a quarter of a mile from the building we were using as a hotel. It shook the building so violently that all the lights fused but only a little glass in the roof was broken. The huge windows were undamaged. But there was considerable damage in the area, glass strewn everywhere. I went to see the damage next morning, Sunday. There were many sightseers and we could not get near the actual damage. But it seemed that only one large house was completely demolished. A number in the vicinity were damaged. Of casualties I could only gather vague rumours in the neighbourhood of 100, but I expect most were cuts from glass and not all were serious.

The "blackout" in the hotel caused more amusement than annoyance, especially as there were ladies present!

The officer in charge ordered free drinks for everyone to celebrate our "escape" and it was a weird sight to see people fumbling and stumbling around by the light of matches and cigarettes to reach the little bar!

The house where we were staying had been a reception house in peace-time used by the wealthy to hold banquets etc. There were some lovely paintings on the walls, excellent furniture and all in good taste. We dined, 50 strong, in the banquet room, with lovely chandeliers suspended over the long table, huge paintings of Dutch and Flemish scenes on the high walls. The cuisine was run by the same Belgian family as before the war and they served some excellent meals, doing wonders with Army rations. Mealtimes were strictly masculine. There was a trio, consisting of a pianist, violinist, and accordeonist, which played excellent lunch-time music at one end of the banquet room.

The same trio played dance-music in the reception rooms upstairs for the The-Dansants held each day from 4.30–5.30 p.m. Partners (very charming) provided.

9.45 p.m. Three officers from R.H.Q. have been dining in our mess to-night as the R.H.Q. mess is not large enough to accommodate the visitors they are entertaining. So we have had to be polite and entertain our 3 visitors which meant this letter being delayed. The light is not too good just now. We have electric light now, but it is an uncertain factor, going out frequently and we have to keep the paraffin lamp burning all the time.

October 31st

I was interrupted again and have had no time to write to-day. I'm determined to finish this tonight even if it means staying up all night. It is still very cold but fine. The chances of a move quickly seem to have faded, we are glad to say.

My greatcoat has just arrived in perfect condition. It could not have arrived at a more opportune moment, so you can take my thanks for all your struggles in packing. The other officers are disrespectful and think I'm foolish to use my best coat. But it seems such a waste to have the coat and not wear it. I'm hoping it won't be needed when I come home.

I see that my letter yesterday was interrupted at a very tantalising moment, having just introduced the dancing partners and left you in the air. I assure you they were very respectable and pleasant. On the Friday afternoon, Dan Carr and I went to the cinema and returned for the The-Dansant, about half an hour late, so by that time people were partnered off. However we did get into conversation with one or two and one asked us for our autographs in her memo book. She gave us her name as Marie-Louise. I will try to give you a description because I know you will want one. She was "petite", age uncertain, possibly 25, hair dark, features well formed but her mouth rather pouting. She was unfortunate in having a slight cast in one eye, or possibly blind in one eye, although she did not admit it. I did not ask her, but she had difficulty in reading and you could never be sure whether she was looking at you or not. She was inclined to talk too much, but as I was on leave I did not mind that. She was exercising her English and her attempts to explain herself caused amusement to both of us.

The ladies were not allowed to dine with us at the club, so we said goodbye at dinner time. After dinner, Dan and I went to the Officers Club near the station, met some more officers we knew and we all went to a café nearby advertising "Cabaret Follies". It was packed with couples. We recognised officers from our club with partners who had been at the The-dansant. After waiting around, trying to drink and talk in the crowd around the small dancing floor, I got into conversation with a young 2nd Lieut. stationed in Antwerp, who told us the show was over. So we had waited an hour or more for nothing at all. However, we had a fairly interesting time watching the various personalities and nationalities. The Americans and Canadians making exhibitions of themselves as usual. We all returned to the hotel and were in bed (our camp beds which we had brought with us) at 11 p.m.

Saturday afternoon I was again late for the The-dansant after having made my record. Partners were already fixed up, but Marie-Louise was unattached again. I think people were probably put off by her disability and her talkativeness. I could not ignore her, of course. We were talking when the bomb fell and the lights went out, and we continued to talk until the lights went on again. After the bomb of course I had to offer to take her home, and discovered that she had arranged to play bridge that evening with an elderly lady. She suggested that I come and play bridge with them (having first asked if I liked bridge) and she phoned the lady to enquire whether she minded her bringing an English officer. The lady was delighted but regretted she could not offer hospitality, food and drinks and cigarettes being so scarce. I assured her I did not mind that.

So at 8 p.m. we called at the lady's house. It was a lovely large house, quite close to the hotel, with large paintings hanging in the hall and up the staircase pottery and china ware and other objets-d' art. The elderly lady, about 65 and very dignified, was alone in the house with her maid. A young doctor and his wife arrived to make the foursome—my intention was to be an onlooker. The doctor's wife, however, had some knitting and insisted she was tired and they insisted on my playing. They also insisted on talking English and playing Bridge in English, although I should have preferred French. When they did lapse into French they always translated their conversation for me afterwards. The doctor was very pleasant and we got on quite well. Conversation was mainly about flying bombs, the elderly lady was becoming afraid of living alone, and we were advising her on what to do. They were interested in London's ordeal and conditions in England and wanted to know what things we were short of and what things I had been buying.

Marie Louise told me to show my photos of you and Daniel (I had shown them to her on our first acquaintance and they were all enchanted with Daniel. The elderly lady wracked her brains for a present for him. She left the room and returned with a handkerchief for you, one for Daniel, and a bottle of what she called real scent for you (I had told her I had been buying scent in the town). She said she wanted to send these gifts in token of her gratitude to the English and the allies. I think I thanked her suitably, I don't seem to have discovered her name or address, so we cannot write even if it were permitted.

Marie and the doctor had to be indoors before 11 (curfew) and for that matter so did I. We left at 10.45, the doctor said goodnight and I took Marie home, quite a short way. Marie invited me in, but her parents had already retired and I met only 2 of her brothers (the other 3 are officers in the Belgian Army and all married). I did not stay long even though they offered me a bed for the night. However, the difficulties of meals, etc. (food is quite a problem with the Antwerpians) made me decide it would be kinder to decline. I had asked Marie to show me around Antwerp Sunday morning and she had agreed to meet me at 10 a.m.

Punctually to the minute she was outside the hotel. It was a lovely sunny morning, just right for sight-seeing. We had to pass the bomb damage on the way to the Cathedral. There were many sightseers and also crowds of people around a street market where rabbits and pets were being sold. Marie showed me the Exchange, the Jesuit church with its ugly baroque façade, the State Library, some old streets, a quick glance at the Cathedral from the outside. We went into the Cathedral just as the procession was making its final journey round the aisles, with a young choirboy in front swinging the bell, Marie showed me the effigy of the Virgin Mary, said to be the richest in the world because of the jewels which adorn her wonderful robes. Certainly it was the most magnificent "doll" and "doll's clothes" I had ever seen. She is dressed in even finer clothes on fête days and for processions. Unfortunately all the magnificent paintings, by Rubens, etc., had been withdrawn from the cathedral and hidden from possible bomb damage.

After the cathedral we saw the Guildhall and the square around containing many buildings built at the time of the Spanish conquest of Antwerp. Marie also showed me a very quiet Spanish courtyard tucked away in an old street. After a quick glance at the docks we paid a flying visit to the Plantin museum. This is a museum built and housing still the first printing press established in Antwerp in the 15th cent. (I think). I bought a copy of a poem printed with the original letters of the first printing press. It is a sonnet composed by the painter (Plantin) to celebrate his daughter's (?son's) wedding. The English translation does not do it justice.

I had to be back at 12 noon to get lunch (we were due to leave at 12.30) and Marie had to cook the dinner. So we caught a tram back and said goodbye to each other standing on the crowded platform of the tram.

So ended a very pleasant 72 hours. Marie certainly made the sight-seeing of Antwerp more interesting and I was grateful for her company. There were many things I should never have seen myself in the brief space of 2 hours. Also, if we had not played bridge Saturday evening I'm sure I should have had a very dull time trying to find amusement in the city. But it would have been. much more fun if you had been there to enjoy it all with me.

Hooray, at last I have given you a fairly consecutive account of the weekend. I thought at one time I should never get this letter finished. Not that it is a burden, by any means. But I must leave answering your letters until to-morrow, as time is getting late. Am sending off the handkerchiefs etc., with the gramophone record to-morrow.

November 2nd

You will have to excuse the writing, I am sitting in my bed, it is too cold to stay up and write. They are playing cards in the Mess and it is impossible to write there. They wanted to go out and. celebrate my birthday drinking at the Club in Grave, but I didn't fancy that. I played cards for a little while and got bored and gave it up. They are probably thinking I'm a poor celebrator. Perhaps I am or perhaps I take my pleasures too seriously.

Before I go any further I must answer your last letters otherwise I do not know when they will get answered. To-night, at long last, I managed to send off your parcel. The paper and string you wrapped up my greatcoat in came in very handy. Incidentally my coat is not a bit creased, so it shows how well you packed it. Am glad to hear you are fixing a holiday for Nov. 10th. I think you are right in going to a completely new hotel, I'm sure I should feel like that too. Make it a good one, and expensive. And don't economise there. You do quite enough economising other times, you must have a holiday from that too!

Sydney Kalbraier is my Troop Leader now. Has been ever since the end of the battle of Conde in Normandy. We have our full number of officers, so I am not overworked.

So you have probably been to see Peer Gynt to-day. Do hope you managed it. I saw scenes of the production in a recent issue of Picture Post and it looked very good indeed, Ralph appears to be acting in 3 different productions at once. An incredible performance.

Yes, I was very sorry about the death of the Archbishop. Next year we shall feel his loss more than ever because if ever this country needed spiritual guidance it will need it in the year of decision which lies ahead.

So you received my telegram.. The R.A.F. are decent, especially as I did not have any cash to pay for the wire, the pilot must have paid it himself. You will know by now that the telegram indicated that I could not fly over, but I had not given up hope when I wrote the wire. You will know, too, I think, how I was fortunate enough to get 72 hours, not because I needed it, but purely by chance. (Fate, or chance, is much discussed in the Mess these days, because at our First Brains Trust Harry Treble described himself as a Fatalist and has been "ragged" ever since).

Your letter arrived yesterday and made a lovely present to read in bed this morning when I should have been on P.T. Your lovely peppermint creams came yesterday too, and I have enjoyed them. There are only two left now! Wrong—one now!

Nov. 2nd (included in parcel, received 5 weeks later)

If this reaches you intact, they are to wish you many happy returns of the day. Very, many happy returns, and I only wish I could be there when you open the parcel.

I intended the Lipstick for Carol, so will you please give it to her, either now or for Xmas.

The crayons are for Daniel.

The two small handkerchiefs and the bottle of Mimosa are the gifts from the old Belgian lady.

If the Customs authorities have allowed the silk packing, it is part of a parachute.

The box was made by one of my Carrier drivers from ammunition boxes and the polished wood from the inside of a broken glider. You might keep it as a souvenir if it is still intact.

Very many thanks for the peppermints which made a lovely birthday present. You are to be congratulated.

Will write separately to Mother and Carol, but please thank them both for their kind letters and their very useful gift. I am using a sheet of the excellent notepaper now.

I received a number of letters, which is very gratifying. As a birthday treat I did not get up for P.T. this morning!

The scarf is for you, of course, and the other things. The sides of the record are marked in the centre with scratches.

November 4th

There is not much news at the moment, our training goes on as usual although we spend a certain amount of time each day preparing to go back into action. We are digging our bivouacs, slit trenches, command posts, etc., on a part of the front. Whether we shall go to that position or not remains to be seen but we shall be ready for the weather if we do have to occupy it in a hurry.

Some of our men this afternoon were slightly injured by fragments of anti-personnel bombs, which dropped near their truck when they were leaving a bathing place. Do not know many details as yet, but we gather that there are no serious casualties. I was having a swim at a different bath in a different part of the town when the bombs fell, but they did not worry us, in fact very few of the swimmers heard them fall.

I have just heard the very good news that all Greece is now free from the enemy. It seems to have gone unnoticed amid the other great events taking place and about to take place.

Your letter 3 dated 23rd Oct. has just arrived with letter 8 dated 31st Oct. I thought there was one missing. As regards comforts for my truck, the things we want are not easy to specify. We could do with a small length of carpet, but it is not worth sending any out (even if you could get any) because we are hoping to "scrounge" a piece early.

The Brains Trusts have been fairly successful, the B.C. takes an interest in them and now acts as Question Master.

Recently I have been pestering the Battery to do something about the men's votes. You know they can appoint proxies, etc., and have their names registered on the electoral roll. The forms for this were issued just before D-day and no-one was very interested. Now they are interested but it requires the persuasion of an officer to get them to sign. I have at last got every man in B Troop to sign a form but the other Troops have had hardly anyone sign, purely because the officers don't push it. I do my best to push the officers but I am annoyed that they should want pushing.

As regards your new table in infancy. This may help, but it is not at all definite because they are always changing:

40-60 Men

3 Troops

3 Batteries

3 or more Regts

2 or more Divs.

2 or more Corps

2 or more Armies

= 1 Troop

= 1 Battery

= 1 Regiment

= 1 Division

= 1 Corps

= 1 Army

= 1 Army Group

– 3 offrs.

– 10 offrs.

– 40 offrs approx

But you must remember that this is Artillery Regiments. There is a similar table to be learnt for (a) Infantry Regiments, (b) Tank Regiments, (c) Medium and Heavy Artillery Regiments, and all the Services—e.g. R.E.s, R.A.S.C., R.A.O.C., Postal, Medical. You have to combine all these and form a sort of "family tree" in order to understand how an army is organised.

We have just heard from Archie Birrell, who is now in Worcester. He had spent 5 days in a hospital in Brussels before being flown over and he still had not had his arm properly set.

As I am writing this our bombers are flying overhead in a long stream while in this tiny mess 4 officers are struggling to broach a small barrel of beer and getting very wet and annoyed in the process. They are using hammers, an axe and spanners and goodness knows what and making as much noise as the bombers. Any moment we expect the barrel to blow up!

The mail is going now, so I must close. This is captured German notepaper again.

November 6th

Near Venvaij

This is going to be a very short, hurried note. Yesterday at mid-day we had sudden orders to move back into action. We had to move at 2.30 p.m. so had a terrific rush and shambles to get packed up. We harboured last night and are now in action again. On a different part of the front, though, and our only reason for coming here is to give another Regt. an opportunity to rest. We took over from them complete.

Am doing night duty to-night, so shall write you a full letter then. In the meantime, don't worry. Everything is o.k. here and we are in the warm and keeping dry.

November 7th. 4.15 a.m.

This is going to be a somewhat disjointed letter, I'm afraid. I'm sitting at the end of a barn beside a small, stove-pipe fire which needs constant attention. The wood supply is almost exhausted and from time to time I have to break up some old twigs and branches lying around the barn.

Outside there is a gale blowing and it is raining hard, so we are very fortunate to be indoors. The gale, however, finds all the cracks and crannies in the barn and is quite howling through. Every now and again an extra strong gust of gale blows open the great doors of the barn. Twice since I began this letter I have had to dash outside, grab the doors and struggle to close them again. There is no sort of fastening on the door and we have had to improvise wedges. The doors haven't blown open for the last 5 minutes, so I'm hoping that my last effort at wedging has been successful!

I'm not alone in the barn. In various corners about 20 men are asleep on the straw. We have improvised lighting by running lamps off our vehicle batteries. Sidney K. is sleeping on his bed. I have been asleep or resting on my bed from 7 p.m. to 3.0 a.m. Was somewhat disturbed at the beginning by the noise of our bombers over head and again later by the noise of a few German bombers dropping bombs somewhere behind us. The bombs were probably 2 or 3 miles away, but sound travels so far in this flat country that it sounded much nearer. The farm shook sometimes with the bombs but again the soil is so sandy that shock travels great distances. At first we thought the bombs were very close but after awhile we became used to these natural explanations. But they disturbed us at first and everyone hurried to put out all our lights. In consequence the fire went out, everyone got cold and went to bed, leaving the place quiet and enabling me to get some sleep.

6.0 a.m. Have been having considerable difficulty with the fire. It has been smoking considerably partly because of the hailstones and rain coming down the very short chimney. Also I am using small twigs etc. which means the fire is continually needing replenishing.

I am wearing my greatcoat for the first time and am certainly appreciating it. I am afraid it will soon spoil under these conditions.

Incidentally, in common with the rest of the British Army, we received our winter woollen vests and pants on November 1st. I am wearing one of the vests but have not felt the need of the pants yet. They are short pants this time. Apart from wearing two of everything I cannot now get much warmer if the really cold weather arrives. However, perhaps by that time the war will be over or we shall be living in large warm houses somewhere inside Germany!

1.30 p.m. After several more attempts with the fire it was breakfast time and then the morning's routine began. The C.O. came round to do a special shoot with one of my guns so had my morning's rest spoilt.

It is fine to-day, but still a high cold wind and we cannot do much out of doors. (Have been interrupted 3 times in writing these short lines.)

Do you remember in my last letter but one mentioning that some of our men had been injured by anti-personnel bombs in Nijmegen? It was a little more serious than we at first thought. Several have been detained at the Casualty Station and one man of A Troop was killed, or died of wounds. It was very unfortunate, particularly as his brother is in my Troop and we had to break the news to him. He took the news very calmly but he must miss him a lot, they have been together ever since they joined up in the early days of the war. The only B Tp man who was injured was only slightly hurt and is back.

Am sorry this has been so disjointed, but that is my life at the moment. Perhaps I shall get more peace to-night.

November 9th

If my cold hands will let me, I will try to write a short letter. It is fine now but we had driving rain this morning and our first shower of snow. The wind, however, has dropped somewhat, is still westerly and therefore has not that biting quality of an east wind.

The morning began unpleasantly because we had to search every man's kit. A farmer in one of the farms occupied by the Battery has lost a watch. As was to be expected, the search revealed nothing, except a pencil of mine that I had mislaid!

David Benson returned from leave last night and enjoyed his stay at the Corps Club at Antwerp. Tydeman also had a good time but it is very short, 48 hours.

It looks as though your cakes were made too well, because some one seems to have eaten them. They certainly have not arrived yet. The tin of duraglit, however, arrived safely yesterday. I was hoping it was the cakes, and confess to be not a little disappointed: However, the duraglit is going to be very useful.

November 12th


We have settled down again, this time on the outskirts of a little village. We had a very long all night run, very cold and wet but we arrived on a sunny day and things seemed much brighter. For myself, I am pleased with the move, the country is much more interesting than our last location. But I am more pleased because of the change of plan, if there was a change. I was rather dreading returning to our position in the wood from which I sent you my gloomy letter in October. It would have been a most dismal spot for the winter and rather a dangerous one in many respects. I was anticipating casualties there if we had occupied it. We are likely to have some, of course, anywhere, but we were almost certain to in that position, which was within range of the German guns.

However, here things are much better and whatever happens I am confident things will be all right here. How long we stay here however, is another thing.

Imagine how I like it if I tell you that last night I slept between sheets for the first time since leaving England. We are the first English soldiers this village has seen and they cannot do too much for us. Most of my men sleep under cover of some sort, not in civilian beds, though, because they have to stay near the gun position and there are not sufficient bedrooms near. The officers were invited to use a large bedroom in one house and Sydney Kalbraier and I are sharing a large double bed. It is almost a quadruple bed in size. It has two beds side by side on a double bed mattress and each twin bed could possibly hold 2 people.

I had a lovely sleep last night, by myself—Sydney was on duty!

There are 3 young daughters, aged 12–16, who are all learning English and practise on us. They are very willing to make us as comfortable as possible.

6.30 p.m. Well, I did not get time to finish this before the post went. I was writing it standing up in my small command post, everyone talking and working and moving around. Our radio was on too, and that was another distraction. (The electricity supply is working o.k. in this village and so we can hear our all main radio all day if we want to)

Now I have come off duty and am writing this in the front room of the house. Quite a pleasant, homely room with 2 comfortable red plush arm chairs, an anthracite stove (not alight, I'm sorry to say), a few family portraits and pictures on the walls, a small sideboard with a tall mirror, and a rather gay teaset in orange and white.

On the way down we bivouacked beside the main road. Most of the men rested in the front room of a café while the officers and a few men slept in chairs in the rooms of nearby houses. We rested from 7 to 12.30 p.m. when the occupants of the houses woke us, gave us a cup of ersatz coffee (no sugar or milk). We had a hot meal cooked and hot tea for everybody before setting out on our journey at 1.0 a.m.

I cannot give you any hint of where we are, Jerry would very much like to know at this moment. Suffice it to say that I am still in the same country as my previous letters before we moved. You are good at crossword puzzles, so perhaps you might guess if I say we are in that part of the country, the illness of which part caused the death of an English King. Tell me how long it takes you to work out that one!

Our Command post is in a small outhouse in the gardens of a house in the village close to the railway line. There is a fire in the outhouse which makes it a pleasure to be on duty (except that I rarely seem to be inside it these days). This afternoon I had a very good shower bath in the miners baths at a nearby coalmine. Very hot water and an unusual method of keeping clothes. All the miners civilian clothes are hung on hooks and then hoisted by chains high up into the ceilings of the long bathroom, The chains are padlocked to hooks on the walls and each miner has his own chain and padlock. So when they come off duty, they strip, have a bath, change into civilian clothes, hoist their working clothes and tools, etc. to the ceiling, then go home. An excellent arrangement.

I thought of you at 11a.m. yesterday, remembering how we had once remembered Armistice Day at Friends Meeting House. We had no observation or remembrance service here, much too busy settling in to our new surroundings

November 14th. 1.30 a.m.

Last night I had an interesting talk with a Dutch schoolteacher. He used to teach German in the local high school. He was at one time, I gathered, or still is, only the schools are shut, a head teacher. But he is young and I think his pupils must be young too. He mainly talked about the power of the R.C. priests and clergy in these parts. David and I rather egged him on. The teachers and priests are not on very friendly terms, as you can imagine. This school teacher is very fond of football. Once when applying for a vacancy as a teacher he was told he could have the post if he gave up football. He told the clergyman he could keep the job. The R.C. clergy will not allow R.C.s to play football with non-R.C.s and this makes a football team's life very difficult. This law has been relaxed a little in war-time but he thinks it will be revived very quickly in peace time.

On the subject of dress, the priests are very strict. The Dutch girls wear rather attractive short, knee-length white stockings. The priests say the girls must wear full length silk or wool stockings because the bare knees are not good for the young men to see!

(1 should have thought the silk stockings were more dangerous, but perhaps the Priests think so too, and like them.) During the war, of course, silk stockings are not available, and the girls have to wear the short woollen ones, but even then the priests prescribe how much knee can be shown! We told them that in England women could wear what they like, even walk through London in a bathing costume! This idea rather shocked the girls "We would not like to do that". We hastily pointed out that very few English girls would, either!

Women must not wear trousers nor can there be mixed bathing at the swimming baths. The teacher made an amusing slip there. He said at first the clergymen will not allow men and women to use the same shower baths! We looked a little startled until he corrected himself. The teacher said "If the Burgomaster says a thing should be done one way and the Priest says it should be done a different way, the second way is always best".

We asked if the Germans tried to interfere with his teaching. He said no, hardly at all. They made him teach all his pupils one hour's German lesson every day. "But my pupils, they did not learn any German. I taught it very badly". Deliberately. He was not forced to teach any history of Germany. When asked if the Germans ever came to listen to what he taught, he said no. "If Germans come in my shcool, I walk out", he said "They did not come again. Inspectors, yes. They have a right to, Germans, no".

The family had rather a harrowing time during the fighting for the village. They lived in the cellar for 10 days. The American patrols would enter the village by day and withdraw. At night the German patrols entered. This happened every day for 10 days. On the 10th day there was fighting in the village, a wounded German soldier was taken into their cellar by another German. When the Germans were ordered to retreat the wounded soldier stood up and the girls and the mother pushed him up the cellar stairs into the street where he was picked up on a German motorcycle. They did not think the wounded man would live for long.

The girls all hated war and wanted peace. They also wanted a universal language so that all could understand each other. They mentioned Esperanto.

The teacher thought there would be war between Russia and American in 14 years time! He would not say on which side Britain would be.

Regarding collaborators the teacher wanted to know what punishment we thought was just. We told him we could not give a fair answer, as we had not suffered the Nazis. But we told him we did not want "cropped heads". He was glad. Why should the Dutch women be punished for walking out with German soldiers, when the Dutchmen working in Germany are writing home and telling of the German girls they walk out with! We agreed!

It is nearly 3 o' clock and I must get some sleep.

November 15th


The stamp is sufficient indication that I am now in Germany. Apart from the weather and the mud conditions here are fairly good. The village has not suffered in any way from the fighting, being just outside the Siegfried Line proper. The houses are, nearly all, farmsteads with courtyards and each family has its own poultry and livestock and apple orchard. The cellars appear well stocked with apples and bottled fruit of various kinds. Coal, too, appears plentiful but of course we are in a mining area too.

Hope you received my cards** o.k. You will have seen from them that the inhabitants here are mainly very young or very old and the men are all old. We have had the unpleasant task of putting several families under two hours notice to move. The American unit which arrived some time ago lent us a Pte. named Schubert to act as interpreter and he got us over the difficult parts. We had no demonstrations, the people seemed to expect it. One woman was very pathetic, kept saying "Oh! Ich habe sechs kleinen Kinden. Was soll ich tun?" several times. However, they all soon found alternative accommodation to move into although there is a possibility of all of them being evacuated to Holland.

One old man said he was Dutch and had a Dutch passport and could he stay. He knew where there was a house, much better than his with only one person in it. He had a large family, would we take the other house. We had a look at the other house and although it was not so conveniently situated we agreed to take it. The "Dutchman" was very relieved.

All the families seem "religious". As in Holland, the houses have many religious paintings and statues in every room and little religious objects in glass cupboards. They appear to go to Church frequently for, possibly, Mass. We met a very young looking R.C. priest or clergyman who seemed rather a nice person. Certainly if English he would have made a most handsome and eligible "bachelor" clergyman! We are not allowed to fraternise except for official purposes and so I have no opportunity of finding out how "nice" people really are.

Certainly the people seem more frightened of us than of the Americans. The Americans of course have been here much longer than we have and the children play with them. With us, the children run away or hide behind curtains when we pass. However, perhaps they will soon become accustomed to us.

At the moment I am on the advance party, and there is not much to do all day except prepare the gun positions and go over the routes in. At night we stay indoors, sleep on the floor of the front room of a large house. The civilians sleep upstairs.

We have our rations sent up to us each day and we are living very well and quite enjoying our relative "freedom" from the Regiment. I am going off to supper now, before coming back to bed, and sleeping for several hours!

If only I could come home now I have reached Germany. But it is all a step nearer. Soon perhaps the last big battle will begin and we shall take a big stride towards home.

**Card of same date: Yesterday John Craston and I, the first two officers in the Battery, crossed into Germany. I am writing this in the room in the house where we slept last night. This postcard I found in a drawer and am sending it to you as a souvenir (have no writing materials here). The weather is bad, rain, sleet and snow yesterday but not to-day, as yet. Mud everywhere. Have had the unpleasant task this morning of giving two hours notice to the occupants of the houses we intend living in for a time. My German is coming in useful, but will you please send me a Dictionary and possibly a cheap grammar book. Only old men and women and young children here.

November 18th

This is just a short note to tell you I am well and in good spirits. I have not time or the energy to write much, we have been very busy these last few days, especially daytime and especially to-day. It has been a noisy day all round, our noisiest for many a day. We have been firing at intervals since 8.30 p.m. yesterday and almost continuously to-day.

I have received your letter telling me of Uncle John's death. I read your letter first and was glad I received the news from you. Mother's letter arrived at the same time, but I always open your letters first. Have written a few lines to Auntie and Norah, but could not be very sympathetic as I am too preoccupied at the moment.

Your letter from Brighton reached me to-day. I am so glad you have managed to have "48 hours leave" too. I wonder if Daniel missed you, am longing to hear all your details.

The civilians have all been evacuated from this village now and we have full possession of all the homes. I am now responsible for feeding 8 cows, two horses, two sheep, four pigs, several dogs and various rabbits, poultry, geese, etc., including milking the cows. Naturally I do not do it myself, but have to see they get attention. As regards the poultry we are having our share of ducks and chickens to supplement our rations.

I promise to write you a decent letter on your birthday, but it is going to be another busy day and we may even move on.

November 20th

Two miles from Geilenkirchen

I could only manage a card yesterday instead of the letter I wanted to write. Your birthday was a very busy day for me. I got up at 6.36 a.m. and was very busy until mid-day. We then had a quick move forward about 2½ miles and went into action in a large open field miles from civilization. It rained, it poured, it blew. We had plenty of firing to do and I was kept busy up till 8.0 p.m. I then had my night duty to do and spent an uncomfortable night sleeping on two tin boxes inside my half-track. We kept warm and dry, which was the main thing and I did get some sleep, although kept waking up every 2 or 3 hours because I was uncomfortable. Then this morning, just as I was having my breakfast, we started firing again and I could not get away until almost mid-day. Have rested most of the afternoon but it is still raining and blowing and miserable.

I am feeling very dirty, too, I have not managed to wash or shave to-day. I need a hair-cut badly, too, must be nearly 2 months since my last one. So generally, I look a bit of a wreck.

Yet Thursday and Friday were comfortable days. We had a gun position in a German village, with a command post in a house. We slept in an adjoining house. All the civilians were evacuated from the village on Thursday and we had all the comforts of home. Tydeman proved himself a real treasure. He baked two ducks, made some pastry and gave us fruit pies and tarts. He also found some almonds and a bottle of wine. He then set a charming table, using the best china and tablecloths, etc. And we sat down 10 strong, the whole Troop Command post staff, and had a really first class meal. It was like having our Xmas dinner in advance: especially as we ate it by candlelight!

It was a pleasant taste of civilisation, but it has made it seem harder to live in the field again. Certainly these are the two extremes of war-time living. In the houses we could sleep on mattresses here it is the damp, muddy ground. There you could sit back in an easy chair in front of a warm stove. Here, to keep warm you crawl into your blankets and you are lucky if the rain is not dripping down on to your pillow! However, we are keeping fairly cheerful, especially as there is plenty to do.

You will be surprised to know that Major Loveday is back with us. He arrived on the day the Regiment as a whole moved into Germany. He was wounded on D + 2 and so has been away some time. He looks very well and fit, and has not amended his ways. The men, I think, seem glad to have him back. He certainly adds a certain "tone" to the Battery and it does mean that he will have more pull with the C.O. than any other B.C., i.e. he will be able to give better representation of our Battery's rights to the C.O. and see that we get a fair deal as compared with the other batteries. Not that there is any petty squabbling or favouritism, but billets, gun positions, personal comforts etc. depend largely on the personalities of the officers concerned.

If it is any criterion, he said I was looking fit and well!

To-day I received your letter written a fortnight ago (Mon. Nov.6) telling me you had booked to go to Brighton. I had already received your letter from Brighton. Also your lovely cake arrived to-day and have enjoyed it.

Sorry, I have got to close. The postman has just called to collect.

November 22nd

I don't seem to be able to find the mood to write decent letters these days. I seem to have lost all power of concentration and energy to write. Have sent you only cards these last two days. The weather of course has a lot to do with it. It has rained steadily ever since we occupied this position. We are in a little valley formed by the folds in a large barren field. There are no trees or buildings to give us shelter nor pavements or roads to give us firm footing.*** What was once a grass field is now a sea of mud and the tracks are deep channels of water where the tanks have bitten into the mud.

Behind each gun you can see a wet shiny strip of canvas slanting above the slippery mud. Some of the luckier guns have a fire in their bivouac and you may see a piece of piping smoking from one end of the piece of canvas. The canvas is by no means waterproof, the wind has torn the bivouacs in certain places and the men have placed tins and mugs under the holes to catch the rain. The floors of the "bivvies" are sometimes lined with straw, but that does not prevent the floor from becoming as slippery as the ground outside.

The Command Post "bivvy" is fairly dry. Tydeman sees to that, but it has the same disadvantage of all "bivvies", draughty and low and dark. You cannot stand up, so you lie on your bed. But your boots are muddy. and you are cold, so you take off your boots and crawl into bed. It is too dark to read, so you think you will go to sleep or perhaps think, possibly compose a letter. But you never get any further in your thoughts. Every few seconds one or other of the surrounding guns will fire, shattering all your thoughts. You start again and the gun nearest to you fires, shaking the earth and the tent causing a lump of wet mud to roll on to your face. You compose yourself again, pulling the blankets tighter over your head, yet you cannot shut out that thud! thud! thud! of the hammering of the guns. For five days now it has been our constant companion but these last few nights it has been fairly quiet, only the day being hideous. Despite this, there is not one of us who would change places with an infantryman whose life these days must be absolutely hell.

I do get a change from the mud and wind and rain when I do my turn of Command Post duty. It is dry and sheltered inside my half track and we have a very good lighting system. Also I can sit and write this letter at a table (made from the seats of crashed gliders). But it is only at night I can write, we are much too busy working and plotting targets during the day.

I'm afraid the papers will not give you much idea of where I am at the moment. According to them the 2nd Army has a very long front and is attacking along the whole front. I cannot help you, either, I'm afraid, except to say I am still in Germany.

Mail has been arriving very irregularly recently. Expect it is due to the bad weather preventing the planes from flying the mail across. I have had no further letters from you since you wrote from Brighton the first night you went. Am longing to read all your subsequent letters.

It is now nearly midnight I have been talking with my signaller who is on duty with me, L/Bdr. Butcher. He was wounded on D + 3 and came back to us at the rest area at Grave. We have been discussing our possibilities of getting home by Xmas and/or going to Burma. I see from the papers that men from 20–27 will be required for Burma so it looks as though I shall be lucky after all.

*** See page [? - 186 of original]

November 25th


At last three letters from you, your last two from Brighton and your first on return to Reading. I was so pleased to receive them and to know you were well and had enjoyed your week-end in Brighton. I was afraid you would be lonely but I'm sure the break from routine and the opportunity to do as you pleased must have been a tonic to you. Your letters are very full and interesting and I have a really good picture of how you spent your time in Brighton. Did you know I once worked there for a few days (7 or 8)? I can't remember whether I told you I had visited there in one of my inspection tours. I did not like the place very much, too flashy and showy and nothing of deep interest or beauty. Am sorry your companions at the hotel were so typically "Brighton". Glad Daniel behaved himself so well while you were away.

We are out of the line again for a few days. We are back in Holland in the village we left before we went into Germany. The people were very glad to see us back and have made us just as welcome as our first visit. We are sleeping again between clean sheets and I am writing this in their sitting room, with electric light, the wireless playing dance music, a warm coal fire and the three charming daughters administering to our wants. It is such a complete change from the mud and wet of the German fields that it is almost difficult to believe we are the same people. Certainly this is a most curious war for us.

To make things seem more curious. We were awakened this morning by German shells falling on the village, some within 100 yards of this house. Yet while we were in the battle front around Geilenkirchen we had no shells within half a mile. Fortunately none of the shells this morning did any damage to speak of and there were no casualties.

This morning I managed my first hair cut for nearly 2 months and I feel a completely new man. Shall probably now develop a cold in the head or something silly, especially as the weather has turned much colder and looks like being frosty.

News still remains comfortingly good, with Strasbourg in French hands. Let us hope the advance will be rapid enough to turn the Siegfried Line before the Germans have time to reinforce it. Certainly the Siegfried Line is a tough proposition, as we know from recent experience. Although, for myself, I have not exactly seen it. We never approached nearer than 2 miles to Geilenkirchen. Although we were but 2 miles from the place we did not hear of its capture until 8 hours after the event, and then only through hearing the B.B.C. news at 9 p.m. last Saturday. What a war!

We have heard some rumour that Eisenhower broadcast recently that the war would be over by Xmas? Is this true? We can hardly credit it, having experienced how difficult fighting can be this weather. But perhaps Eisenhower has something up his sleeve.

One of my Sergeants, Sgt. Lowe, has just heard his wife has given birth to a son. He now has a boy and girl.

November 27th


We are back in action again, after two days maintenance. But that does not mean we have changed our location. We are in the same village and as comfortable as ever. As far as I am concerned it will only mean sleeping in a bed with sheets 2 nights out of 3 instead of 3 out of 3. Things are fairly quiet on this sector and we are not experiencing all the mud and wet some parts of the 2nd Army are having.

I did not write yesterday. I had a busy day and evening on the roads running to and fro with rations, etc., for one of my guns which has been in workshops some time. It was on its way back to us and has been held up by floods and cannot reach us. Sounds stupid, but that is the situation and I have been running rations and mail to its crew. Owing to the floods it is a difficult journey to and fro and I spent a long time in the truck getting frozen.

In the evening David, Sidney and I played cards with the family. Rather a mixture of Old Maid and Pounce which I invariably lost! In fact they made me pay a forfeit consisting of standing on my head in a corner (that was David's suggestion). I think I rather staggered them by performing the feat with remarkable ease.

During the evening they had a visit from a friend in the Dutch Army. He was a Captain, and had served four years in the underground movement. During that 4 years he never once lived at home, although he must have been to see his home many times. If all he told me were true, he must have had an exciting time. They used to dress in German uniforms and ride about quite openly in German cars and in civilian cars. He personally had assisted parachutists, agents, spies, etc., to pass through Holland into Germany and vice versa. An interesting fact was the co-operation between the Dutch and Belgian underground movements. In Belgium there were two movements, one the White Brigade and the other organised by the Communists; the Communist movement would only accept Russians or Communists people escaping from Germany. The White Brigade would accept only non-Communists. As the Dutch movement dealt with any person escaping from Germany they had many difficulties over this. It is amazing how these people did work and kept faith in Britain. They received orders and information by wireless from London.

4.30 p.m. (Have had two shoots and a kit issue to interrupt this letter). Yesterday evening I received four letters from you. You ask if we are in the attack on the Maas. You will know by now. We were 10 miles north east of Venlo, amid the waste marshlands, when I sent all those cards and where the Regiment had its chapter of accidents. We can appreciate the conditions described in the papers of the fighting there.

You ask who is David Benson. I'm sure I must have mentioned him before, or perhaps I never gave his name. He is my Troop Commander now that Stephen Perry is in England. He joined us originally in France just before we crossed the Seine. I did not care much for him initially but have come to like him much better and we are understanding each other better. He is 23–25 I think. A regular soldier, one of an old country family, pheasant shot, rides with the hounds, etc. Yet we reach an understanding rather on the lines of "we agree to differ". Usually our opinions are absolutely opposed on any question! however I am gradually educating him. He is usually pretty light hearted, but has quite a temper.

I have bought myself a leather waistcoat, I bought it in France actually, but only began wearing it recently. Now the Army is issuing them to many troops and I could have had one free!

Now I must go and start censoring. I am on duty from 6 till 10 p.m. and then have the night off. To-morrow I hope to get a good bath.

November 28th

Just a short note, will send you a longer letter by the next post. Was on night duty last night, but read instead of writing to you. I have become absorbed in "Marguerite de Valois" (that you sent in the parcel of books) and cannot put it down. Such a long time since I read a pure historical novel.

I was up at 3 a.m. and have been up since and am not due off duty until 10 p.m. I went for a bath this morning intending to rest this afternoon. Then the C.O. decided to pay us a visit, arrived an hour late and took quite a time wandering round, so I had my afternoon spoiled and never went to bed. However, we are not doing anything strenuous these days and can get some very good rest.

Many of the men have now been equipped with special oversuits, waterproof boiler suits with zip fasteners and a detachable hood. They are lined with flannel and look very smart. They are certainly the most suitable article of wear issued by the Army. The suits are intended only for Tank Crews, so I am not entitled to one yet! However, I shall try to get one at the first opportunity. I wore one on night duty last night and found it very useful. They look something like the Prime Minister's "Siren Suit".

Your letter dated 25th arrived to-day, also your bundle of papers. The papers are much appreciated by the Dutch family we are with.

December 1st

Yesterday was a busy day for me, suddenly receiving orders to go and arrange billets for our Battery in a nearby village. It's a very tiring job trying to find billets for 200 odd men and 10 officers or so. The roads are muddy, too—make walking tiring and difficult. Climbing up and down ladders, looking into barns, etc. trying to decide how many men you could squeeze into various odd rooms. To say nothing of finding decent places to stand the vehicles which give the drivers a reasonably dry standing to work on their vehicles.

To make the job a little lively Jerry sent over about 30 shells within 100 yards or so of the village and I had to make a hurried dive for the ditch beside the lane. It was quite a shallow ditch as ditches go, so I had to keep close to the ground. But the bottom of the ditch had at least 3" of mud and another 3" of water and I spent a most uncomfortable 5 minutes in the mud. Pieces of shrapnel were falling around me, two or three landed in the ditch by my head. Fortunately the damage done was negligible and there were no casualties, except my clothing which looked a little mud stained.

We shall be sorry to leave this place if and when we do, as we are all very comfortable here. But we know such comfort cannot last, so expect to move any day now.

I have little other news for you. Life goes on pretty much the same around here.

Many thanks for the German dictionary and grammar which will be most useful. When I shall get chance to study them I don't know but I could have made good use of them yesterday. I had difficulty in making my poor German understood. Especially with one elderly lady who could speak Dutch and French but no German. I had been trying to speak German to her and when she answered in French I could not think of any French at all! Tres difficile!

We have been amusing ourselves with the Hugo's guide to the Dutch phrases. David has been attempting to pronounce the words to the great enjoyment of the family.

My schoolteacher friend has read Professor Waart's book on Holland and considers it a very good book indeed. I must put it next on my list. The family are also interested in the Picture Posts, of which I seem to have received quite a number recently.

So you have not yet received my parcel. Yesterday I sent you Daniel's toy and the clogs. Also a small parcel of powder I had bought in Bayeux! I'm afraid it must be spoiled by now. I could not send it immediately I had bought it and had it packed away in one of my numerous boxes. It had remained there forgotten until I unpacked it recently to pull out my winter clothing.

Have already written one letter to-day for my cook who has financial troubles at home. Now one of my Sergeants wants me to write to his wife and explain why he couldn't get compassionate leave to come home when their baby was born. Some friction has been caused because the Sergeant's wife knows of a soldier who had 30 days leave recently when his wife had a baby. This particular soldier has been a neighbour of my Sergeant and has always managed to get more leave and privileges than my Sergeant. This seems to wrankle with the Sergeant's wife and has made her somewhat bitter. I fail to see what I can do, but the Sergeant wants me to write a short note explaining why her husband wasn't able to get home. It is going to be a difficult letter to compose!

I don't want to raise false hopes, but I have heard a strong rumour that we are all going to get a week's leave in the New Year, starting early in January. Not just this unit, the whole 2nd Army. Let's hope this is an occasion when rumour is not a lying jade.

December 2nd

This is the sixth letter I have written this afternoon. I have written letters to 5 of my wounded men for Xmas, just maintaining contact and letting them know they are not forgotten. It seemed an excellent opportunity to do it to-day when things are so quiet. So you must forgive me if my handwriting is worse than it usually is.

I'm afraid my writing has deteriorated recently partly because I am using a pen John Craston bought for me in Antwerp. It is a cheap pen and the nib is not quite suitable for me. Also, most of my letters are written in such a hurry that I don't have time to write properly. However, I will try to improve, because a letter well written is much more enjoyable to read and receive than a badly written one.

I have not much news for you. It is raining and colder to-day, but as we are indoors we do not notice that so much. I was on night duty last night but slept all the time. It was taking a risk, but fortunately the phone never rang all night, so it was worth it.

Things remain very quiet I'm glad to say. I've no desire to do any shooting. Besides the guns are so close to the village and to the houses we are billeted in that every time we fire it disturbs all our households. It certainly makes me jump when they fire, so goodness knows what fright the women and children of the village must get each time.

December 4th

You may have heard the good news to-day about leave in the New Year for D day men, I had heard rumours about it from one or two sources recently but dared not mention it to you for fear of disappointing you. So it looks as though, with any reasonable luck, I should be home when Julia is born. I understand the order in which leave will be granted will be decided by ballot; whether or not that applies to the Officers as well I do not know,

I should have written to you earlier to-day as I had plenty of time. I had to act as "stooge" for the B.O., i.e. sit in his tactical H.Q. and listen for the telephone while he went to a Conference and had a bath, etc. As there was very little to do I had plenty of time on my hands. As an Army H.Q. in wartime it is remarkably comfortable. The office is the downstairs front room of a private furnished house. So I sat in a very comfortable armchair beside a very warm Dutch fire. No, I didn't go to sleep. I found a remarkably good American novel called "The Sea of Grass" by Conrad Richter (I think). It was quite short, beautifully written and very delightful and I was so absorbed in it that I read it through from beginning to end with only a short break for lunch. It is not often one can read and appreciate a book complete and I found myself translated from a room in Holland to the wide sunny open spaces of Southern America in the days of the pioneers. I doubt whether you will ever see the book as it is only published in America. This edition was the special Armed Forces Edition published by the U.S. Army.

December 5th


I wrote the above on duty in the Command Post before being relieved. After that I spent a quiet evening playing nonsense games with the family. Honestly, you would not recognise three Army officers if you could have seen us last night. Sitting on the floor we were trying to see how many matches you can place on the top of the mouth of a bottle without knocking any off. Surprising how many matches you can place, before any are knocked off. Then we prayed "Up Jenkins"! with, at least for me, a few novel additions introduced by David Benson.

Talking last night in bed, David told me a little of his family history. A very little, but enough to explain why he is such a staunch supporter of Stanley Baldwin (can you wonder we disagree?)

Apparently the Baldwin family used to live in the house in South Shropshire that David's parents now live in. I think he said that in those days, the Baldwins were Lord and Lady Cordale, Cordale being the name of the valley in which the house is situated. Stanley Baldwin has frequently been to the Benson home. David himself is on friendly terms with an "heiress" as he describes her. I gather he is more in love with the grouse moor and the riding country owned by the wealthy parents in Northumberland!

I enclose a cutting from an Illustrated London News which I should like you to keep. For interest mainly. The L.C.T. in the right foreground is similar to one we crossed in and you can see the position where I slept in my hammock on the journey over. The hammock was slung between the bridge and the funnel, about level with the black circle around the funnel. Am also enclosing for Daniel a drawing I made yesterday of a small Dutch ornament. So you can see how busy we are!

There is not much more news. Today is cold but fine with an occasional short shower. There have been no more shells near the village since the first morning we arrived and things are very quiet still.

Can you send me a) envelopes (a few postcard size or larger)

                                b) a beginners book on drawing.


(This ends the first six months' period).



Friday, December 8th

I have not written for two days, so you are going to have a blank period. We moved from our comfortable and hospitable village on Wednesday and are now settled in another village. It's a larger one, but not as pleasant as the other. Sydney Kalbraier and I are sharing a small, dark room on the first floor of a small house in which a large family is living. The village seems well populated with children —one family where some of my men are billeted have 16 children—11 boys and 5 girls. The eldest child is 16! and the father is only 36! I think a 17th is on its way. Poor woman!

Yesterday I should have written, but David and I went to the cinema in the afternoon, returning about 7.30 p.m. It was a nasty wet and unpleasant day. We had a cup of coffee (ersatz and no milk, saccharines) in a café and the waitress brought us a huge apple tart. Then we noticed a Dutch girl eating ice cream and had one ourselves. Unfortunately I was disappointed in the film. We had hoped to see "Canterbury Tales" but they had changed the programme yesterday and instead we saw "Lady takes a Chance". As it was a film I had seen before, the outing was a bit of a flop.

But the day was not altogether spoiled. On returning from the cinema I found your letter awaiting me—and—a most pleasant surprise—Daniel's new photo. It's a lovely photo, and I am so glad to have it. But hasn't he grown and hasn't he changed! Really, I have to look very hard to see any resemblance to his old photos. When I showed it to Ron Dorey and John Craston they said it was not the same boy they had seen in the pram at Bournemouth! I really shall not be able to recognise him when I come home.

Have just received your letter of last Monday in which you tell me you have received the parcel and the record. At last, I was just beginning to think it must have been lost, stolen or broken in transit. Am so glad it was not below expectations as I was afraid it was going to be a flop.

Am enclosing the letter received from Father recently. The rockets seem to be becoming more of a nuisance than ever to them and I wish the infernal things would finish. Am afraid they may interfere with our leave system which is the general topic of conversation these days. There are going to be many difficulties to get the system working fairly, but we have yet to see the official rules on how to ballot for the leave. The officers' ballot is organised separately from the men's.

I am very short of envelopes now, in fact I cannot think where I am going to get an envelope to post this letter in. So could you please send me a good supply of envelopes so that I can keep a reserve. I'm too generous, I gave quite a few away recently for various reasons.

December 9th

There is nothing fresh to report to-day except that it snowed! It did not lie fortunately, as it had already rained quite hard, but it is a foretaste of what is to come. We were glad we were not in action as it has been very cold all day.

Harry Treble came to our rescue to-night with some notepaper and envelopes he bought in Antwerp. I have shared a packet with Sydney Kalbraier. A useful size envelope as I can enclose cards. Some men have managed to buy Xmas cards, but I have been unlucky so far. The Regimental card does not appear to have been printed in time.

The leave question is causing quite a lot of discussion. The Officers' rota will be decided by circumstances and the Colonel, but I expect I shall have a certain say. The men, however, will feel a bit disgruntled, as, under the present arrangements it will be possible for a man who landed in France, say in August, to go on leave before a man who landed on D-day. To my mind that is quite unfair. Also, the present arrangements mean that there cannot be a roster prepared beforehand, so the men will not know until almost the last moment when they are going on leave. My protests against this stupid system have been in vain so far.

I am enjoying reading the book on Holland. Have now learned who VONDEL was. Apparently he is the Dutch Shakespeare. The girls at Born were horrified when I said I did not know Vondel, yet they knew Shakespeare and Wells and Shaw and Milton!

Am sending Daniel a doll by separate parcel. Bought from a Gift shop organised by our Corps.

December 11th

I did not write to you yesterday. Was intending to write in the evening when the electric light failed and we had to make do with candles. The rest of the officers were playing poker so I retired to bed and finished reading the book on Holland. I enjoyed the book very much but I wonder how much of it I shall remember. My memory of books is very short, I'm sorry to say. The light was not restored until mid-day to-day. Rather curious situation in the village as one side of the street had lights, the other side was in darkness. Fortunately it was not enemy action, just an ordinary current failure.

We are still resting in this village. I wish we had stayed at the last place as we have not the same comfort here.

There is nothing much to report. We played soft-ball this afternoon, rather like rounders with a few Canadian terms. We do a little painting and maintenance and lecturing. Gave them a talk on the proposed Army Education Scheme during the period we are waiting to be demobbed and they all seemed interested. One man wanted to know if there would be facilities for him to revise his trade before leaving the Army. I asked him what his job was and he confounded me by saying he had been training as a mental nurse! Certainly the Army Educational Staff are going to have a difficult job if they intend to cater for all persons.

We read with interest Churchill's speech on the Greek and Italian situations. It is a most frightfully complicated problem and I feel Churchill made out quite a strong case for his policy. The whole thing is so tragic and shows vividly the difficulties inherent in the use of force, especially uncontrolled force. You always have feared the consequences of giving arms to the ill-disciplined peoples indiscriminately and you certainly seem to be justified in your fears. I sincerely hope the Greeks will realise the futility and uselessness of their actions and how much harm they are doing, both to themselves and the troops fighting on other fronts. I sincerely hope I shall never find myself in the situation of the military officials in Greece—I don't know what my reactions would be if I had orders to fire on, say, Dutch or Belgian or French "rebels".

Tuesday. Too late for the post yesterday. I spent a good part of the time from supper onwards drawing the enclosed sketch. It is rough and not finished off. It is the waterbottle-cum-wine bottle and glass which adorns our Mess Table here—I rather like the shape. It is water in the bottle!

I have just received a lovely post. Your delightful cake has arrived and I have already sampled it— I couldn't wait until Xmas day. I'm not going to share it with anyone!

Carol's parcel was a surprise. It is going to cause a lot of amusement and interest in the Mess, especially these long dark nights. It will also distract the officers from playing Poker, so it will have a very beneficial influence on the Mess!

To-day we all were presented with a new pair of socks by the Hertfordshire Welfare Committee.

Our last officer to go on 48 hours leave went off to-day and we are hoping that we shall start the roster again. If so, I might manage to be on 48 hours leave at Christmas, should just be my turn by then.

December 13th

Just a short note. Sydney Kalbraier and I are going to pay a social visit to our hostess and her daughters at the last village. Purely a social visit as it looks as though this will be our last chance to see them. I doubt very much whether we shall get another opportunity. We left in such a hurry that we had no time to say proper farewells.

Received two letters from you to-day, one containing the second photo of Daniel which is equally delightful as the first. He certainly has the most charming and winning smile and an air of knowing.

I think I had better take my chance with leave and accept it when it comes rather than postpone it, to suit baby. I always make it a golden rule never to defer or postpone Army leave, one can never be certain that the opportunity will occur again.

It has been fine to-day with a few spells of sunshine. The old drudgery of digging-in has begun again, but the soil is not nearly so difficult as Normandy.

December 15th

I did not write yesterday. We had an officers Conference which lasted all the evening including Supper. Another long training programme seems foreshadowed and you can draw your own conclusions. What our future moves will be we don't know, at least I don't know, so perhaps we shall spend Xmas here. How and what food we shall have we also do not know.

Sydney and I had a pleasant welcome from our friends at Born and they opened a bottle of Champagne for our benefit, and insisted on us taking away a number of eating apples. The place is not quite so pleasant as when we left as the house has been turned into an Officers Mess for the Battery that took over from us. So instead of 3 officers staying there, they now have 3 officers and 7 others coming there for meals, etc. with batmen walking to and fro through their living rooms. They want us to go there for Xmas but of course we cannot make any plans.

The rumours current about leave are legion. The latest is that there should be two officers per week from this Regiment going on leave, which is one more that we had at first hoped. We hope that in the end it will turn out to be 1 per Battery otherwise it would mean half the Battery officers not going on leave. The first draw should be made in the next few days, so I shall soon know if I am going to be the first lucky one.

It looks as though our evenings will be busy in the near future, trying to interest the men with "Brains Trusts" and possibly German language classes! Besides learning it myself I may have to teach others at the same time.

I wonder if, between now and when I come on leave you could possibly save up a few tins of foodstuffs etc., such as powdered milk, egg powder, cocoa, etc. that I could take back with me. Such things manage to eke out our rations and give us an extra hot drink during the long evenings. Our Army rations are not quite sufficient to enable us to have the luxury of an extra drink in the small hours of the morning (except by scrounging goods from the cook house). I don't want you to stint yourself, but just in case you were not accepting your full ration of these goods you might be able to put them aside for me occasionally.

My next letter should be a Xmas letter, but I have no real Xmas present for you, I'm afraid. Thanks for the papers and the Penguin.

December l7th

I meant this to be your Xmas letter but am afraid we are not in a very Xmassy mood at the moment. The Officers Mess is too small for a sitting and dining room and writing and games room. Our electric light has gone and it is getting dark and I've got to mount the Guard at 5 p.m. and to-morrow I have to organise some Rifle and Sten Gun practice, and . . .

Sorry, I didn't mean to moan. I wanted to send you a letter, to let you know I'm quite well. I think I am a bit tired after playing Rugby yesterday. It was only a practice game and we took things very gently. Just as well because I am quite out of training despite our active life! We were going to play another Unit tomorrow but the arrangements have broken down. Dave Benson is Sports officer for the Regiment.

(Hooray—the light has come on again.)

We had some aerial activity last night but it did not disturb my slumber and nothing dropped on the village.

Yesterday I had a lovely letter from you and answers to my letters from Mrs. Lowe (the Sergeant's wife) and from one of my wounded Sergeants. I will send you the letters as soon as I have spoken to Sgt. Lowe and passed the other letter around the troop.

December 17th. 6. 30 p.m.

Things are quieter now, 6 officers have gone to the cinema, leaving Ron Dorey, John Bartlett and me writing letters. I have wasted 30 minutes of this peace by finishing that Penguin mystery you included with the last M/Guardian Weekly—"Half Mast Murder". I had reached the stage when I could not resist much longer looking at the last chapter, so I had to finish it quickly! The first mystery story I had read for a very long time.


Sorry, I had to finish off last night but we had orders to attend to. As the result we have been busy all day, have moved and are back in action once more. That does not mean much, as things are very quiet here really.

Am afraid I shall have to finish this off in a hurry now as it is near posting time. Have had a lovely post-bag to-day. A very good selection of books from your Mother and Father, another good selection from Margaret (Penguins different from Mother's), two letters from you, a letter from your Mother and letters from the wounded men I wrote to.

This isn't your Christmas letter after all, but I will take the opportunity of wishing you a Happy Christmas and a happier New Year.

December 21st

Difficult to write much these days as we are on the move again. But we are all well and quite safe and in good spirits. I hope you are not too worried by this German offensive, because we are not. Am afraid it will spoil your Xmas but if things go well it should shorten the war, which is some consolation.

December 23rd

I have been lucky in the leave draw. I am coming home on leave on January 9th. Could anything be more perfect? I do not know yet whether the 9th is the day I arrive in England, or the day I leave the unit, I rather fancy it is the former.

Sydney Kalbraier and I were the two lucky officers in our Battery. Sydney K is going on January 4th. My name was actually drawn for that date but I decided to change it for the 9th to make more certain of being at home to see the baby. Difficult really to know what to do for the best, but I think that will be the best arrangement.

I am hoping to know more details about leave before I finish this letter. But we have a Conference at 4.45 and I may not be able to get this letter finished.

5.0 p.m. The Conference has been postponed, so I am going to scribble a few more lines to finish off. Will write to Mother to let her know, too. Have not learnt any more details, so you must wait until another letter.

It is difficult to know what is going on and what we are doing these days. It appears now that the matter is well in hand and that the immediate danger has passed. What the next steps are remains to be seen. It is difficult to explain, because parachutists are active behind our lines and mail may become intercepted. So you must be patient for news until later.

We are in a very pleasant quiet town now. I am finding many opportunities to exercise my French but the Flemish beats me. I still speak very bad French, and I do not try very often, but I am progressing and gaining confidence. Some people manage to understand me! I have managed a haircut to-day, but the barber was very quiet and I could not exercise my French.

Xmas preparations are going ahead as best we can. Look like having tinned turkey with real Xmas pudding. We are trying to arrange a dance for Xmas eve, but there are many difficulties. We only arrived in this village yesterday morning, so we haven't wasted much time.

Must close now. I am excited and I'm sure you will be too. I cannot believe our luck. But it is true, nevertheless. It won't be long now.

December 27th

You must be very worried these days, with news of the German counter-offensive. I wish I could get news to you to reassure you that all goes well with me and the battle as a whole. For the last few days, the battle, for us, has been a war of movement only and we have not seen any fighting, nor are we likely to. The German offensive is now definitely halted, at least temporarily, and he must be now becoming very worried as to his future survival. The weather has been absolutely perfect since Xmas Eve, and it has given our air forces just the opportunity they wanted to help us prepare a stand. And the stand has now been prepared and things are looking much brighter.

I can't possibly tell you all that has happened to us in recent days, events crowd upon us so fast that we have no time to absorb them or record them.

We were resting in the village of Doenrade, just a few miles east of Sittard in Holland and a few miles from the German border. That night we had a hectic time with rumours of possible German counter-attacks on our sector, reports of gliders being seen, of parachutists seen drifting over the front lines. German planes were active overhead dropping flares and a few bombs. Certainly, things were confused and hectic and we did not know what was going to happen next.

We were there two nights when we had orders to move back to a harbour area in Belgium. We began moving at 3.30 p.m. We were an hour late in passing over the river Meuse and it was almost dark before we had got half way to the harbour area. Then my vehicle began giving trouble and I had to call at a workshop to find out the trouble. They told me I had water in the petrol system and it would take several hours to repair. The Captain in charge of the workshop invited me into his caravan and I joined a little party he had arranged. Two married couples from local nearby houses had been invited in. They told me the villagers were getting worried. Many had already packed their bags as they saw our transport coming back from the front.

The men worked on my vehicle until 1.30 a.m. and even then the machine refused to go. So the Captain offered to put me up for the night. I slept on my camp bed in his caravan (captured by the White Brigade in Belgium and sold to the Captain for 100 cigarettes!).

In the morning, after breakfast, I set out in a borrowed vehicle and drove to the harbour area. I was a bit disconcerted to find that the Regiment had not arrived. I had been prepared for such an emergency and had been given a rough area to go to if such circumstances arose. So I dashed off in that direction. On the way back I noticed a lot of vehicles being diverted south, guessed that our Regiment had also been diverted south to the battle front and followed the stream. I was fortunate to catch the Regt. just before it harboured at Tirlemont. The next morning our battery had orders to move to Jodoignes, the next large town further south. My vehicle finally caught me up here. We thought this would be the end of our travels and were assured we should be there for Xmas. We began making extensive preparations. The men were billeted in two schools belonging to a convent (the girls were just breaking up for their Christmas holidays when we arrived). All the officers and Sergeants had bedrooms in private houses. By Saturday afternoon a dance had been arranged for Sunday evening, a band and refreshments procured, tickets printed and invitations sent out! We received all our Xmas fare and drinks and preparations were under way to have a really enjoyable Xmas.

In two days, I received 8 letters from you, including that truly wonderful photograph of Daniel, so naturally coloured. It is a really lovely picture. It was there, too, that we had the Christmas draw for the Christmas leave. Sydney K. and I were billeted in a café, with a bedroom each. The people were very hospitable and pleased to see us. They said they would arrange a small party for us on Xmas Eve and would invite several friends.

Sunday morning was a lucky day for me. Or unlucky if you like. David Benson went off to Brussels on 48 hours leave. In the morning I had to go on a recce with Harry Treble.

It was a fine clear frosty morning, with a warm sun and a brilliant blue sky. A really lovely morning for a run in a car. We halted by the roadside and were watching the great procession of bombers passing overhead towards the battlefront. Then, as suddenly as an April shower, a great aerial battle started in the blue sky above us, and the sky was quickly filled with the thin white vapour trails of fighters moving at terrific speeds at great heights.

We saw one burst into flames and fall a long way away. Then I happened to look directly above and saw another plane on fire. It was directly overhead, and appeared at least 45,000 feet up. We watched it coming down, apparently quite slowly. I didn't like the look of it, it looked to me as though it would crash near us. Harry said, No, the wind will take it away. I said "Let's jump in the vehicle and drive off, I don't like it". So we jumped in and he pressed the starter. The car refused to go! He pressed the starter again as we looked at each other anxiously—then "Whoowosh", and a terrific explosion and thud shook the vehicle.

We jumped out and saw the burning wreckage of a plane just 50 yards from the road where our vehicle was parked! Bullets began exploding and we dived into the ditch and lay there shivering for a while. The pilot, if he had been still in the plane when it crashed, must have been killed instantly by the terrific force with which it had hit the ground falling from such a height. So we did not attempt any false heroics. When the fire had died down somewhat we examined the wreckage. The plane had fallen in an open ploughed field and buried itself nearly 10 feet into the ground. This explained why, although many bullets had been heard to explode, we had not heard any whizzing through the air. The wreckage appeared to be that of an American fighter, we were sorry to discover. With difficulty we got our car to start and it was two very sober young officers who drove back to Jodoignes. That afternoon we saw a Fortress burst into flames and crash in the distance beyond Jodoignes.

That afternoon Harry and I had tea at his billet. He lived with the town Jeweller and his wife who had a very pleasant modern home. We had some interesting conversations (in French!) with them of which I could write for a whole letter. They insisted on us eating great portions of a delicious cream cake that they had purchased in the town for Xmas, cost about 400 francs. It was a delicious "gateau" served with a glass of wine.

After supper at the Officers Mess, 6 of us adjourned to our café for our "party". Much to our annoyance, only one of the expected guests had arrived. (Incidentally we had had to cancel the dance because we had orders to impose a strict curfew at 10 p.m. because of the fear of parachutists). We did not want to stay at the café without a party, so, in order to make some excuse for leaving, someone suggested the Orderly Officer, John Craston , should visit the guard and come back a quarter of an hour later and say that we were wanted for an important conference. Well, everything went according to plan, we made our escape quite politely. Imagine our disgust and annoyance when we found we were wanted for a conference! We had a warning order to be ready to move by first light Christmas morning. The officers had to wait up until 12.30 a.m. to get final orders. I finally went to bed at 2.0 a.m. Christmas morning, reveille was at 4.0 a.m., by 5.30 we were on the move. Fortunately it was a fine, crispy night and clear as a bell.

I cannot tell you where we moved to yet. I was o.p. officer in David's absence and had to occupy an observation post. Fortunately it was quite a comfortable one as I was lucky enough to find a house with a bedroom which had a commanding view of the area.

We had to postpone our Xmas dinner of course. We actually had no food at all issued by the Army for Xmas dinner, it never arrived in time. We scrounged some potatoes and vegetable from a garden and one of the tank crew had a tin of sausage meat which he had carried around with him ever since Xmas 1940! It made quite an appetising meal.

We made the kitchen of the house look quite Xmassy, decorating the mantlepiece with the Xmas cards we had received. We had been up so early, however, that we were too tired to enjoy Xmas evening and went to bed as early as we could. The owners of the house were scared stiff that the Boche would return and strained my French to the utmost to try and convince them that the enemy was held and would not advance any further. The husband had left his wife alone for 2 or 3 days before Xmas when he heard the Germans were coming, and had made his way to comparative safety (many Belgian men did this). He had returned after 2 or 3 days when he found the situation improving but he was still very worried and even slept fully clothed.

We were there for two nights before moving on to this village. I could have written you a letter from there, but unfortunately I had nothing to write on. All my correspondence had been left with the gun end vehicles, as when we started to move I did not anticipate having to occupy an o.p. I received orders while we were actually on the move.

Friday, December 29th

I was too tired to finish this letter on Wednesday, and yesterday I had no time at all. We celebrated our Xmas yesterday and the officers had a busy time making all the preparations. We managed to have our meal undisturbed. The men dined at 1.0 p.m., the officers at 7.0. At 6.45 p.m. the B.C. had to go for orders urgently and we thought we were going to miss our dinner once again. But it was not important after all, and we ate a very excellent meal. Will tell you about Xmas the 28th in my next letter.

I want to tell you that Daniel's photo is universally admired. I don't know how many people I have shown his photos to now. Every house I am billeted at I show all my photos, so he has been admired by many people now.

On Xmas eve I received your lovely parcel of drawing books which made a delightful Xmas present. Also Robert and Beatrice's letter that you forwarded and a parcel from Mother containing a few useful items.

I hope this catches the post to-day. Post arrangements are a bit disorganised these days.

I get more and more excited every day at the thought of seeing you so very soon!

Interval for Leave.

January 15th, 1945

Before I tell you about my journey I will tell you that we are no longer active. We are at Bure and to-morrow we move to somewhere near Tirlemont. So for awhile you need have no worries about my welfare. We should be in billets (as we are now).

Well, now to the tale of my journey here. I need not have worried about being late at Victoria. The train did not leave until 11.45 p.m. There was quite a crowd of service men around the barriers and plenty of civilians to see them off. Some of the soldiers were quite merry, much more noisy than when they arrived. One Canadian was carried on to the platform drunk and unconscious! Some soldiers were singing in rather a drunken fashion "On Ilkla Moor" and Loch Lomond.

We arrived at Folkestone at 2.30 a.m. There was a Naafi car on the train but I did not have anything to eat and drink. We were met at the station, had our passes stamped with the time of our arrival and then transported in Army vehicles to a hotel on the front. By the time we arrived and had drunk a warm cup of tea it was 3.15 a.m. Reveille was at 4.30 a.m. I did not go to bed, although one was available, but dozed in an armchair beside a warm fire. Here I met a Capt. in the R.A.C. whom I had been friendly with on the way home. More of him anon.

Breakfast (bacon and sausage) was at 5.0 a.m. Afterwards we changed our English money into French currency (despite the fact that most of us were going to Belgium!). (I have not yet had an opportunity to change my money into Belgian currency, so for the moment I am broke!).

We then had another short ride in Army vehicles to the quayside and eventually embarked on the T.S.S. Canterbury (the boat that brought us over) at about 7.45 a.m. The Captain (R.A.C.) and I found a cabin and shared the four bunks with 2 other (Canadian) officers. I went to sleep or rather dosed in the bunk wrapped in my blanket. I don't remember much about the journey across, so I must have slept fairly well. I remember occasionally feeling a slight swell and rolling motion but was most surprised when I heard over the loudspeaker system "Standby Fore and Aft." It was 10 a.m. and we were docking. (The ship was remarkably silent and certainly on B deck, where the cabins are, there was no vibration from the engines).

We disembarked and were immediately shepherded into a train waiting at the quayside. After shunting around the outskirts of Calais for ½ an hour or more, we dismounted and. made our way to an Army Transit Camp in Calais.

Here we were sorted out into train parties and given a ticket (card labelled with the No. of the train, mine was Train 5). The. departure times were notified over the loudspeaker system. Train 5 (non-stop to Bourg Leopold) was due to depart at 4.45 p.m.

Managed a wash in very cold water and then had lunch in the camp. An Ensa show was announced for 2 p.m. in the Opera House, Calais, and a camp film show at 2.30 pm. The R.A.C. Capt. and I decided to have a stroll around Calais, visit the Ensa show and return to the Camp for tea.

Calais certainly has been badly battered, the main streets especially show all the marks of bombs, mortar shells and cannon shells and machine gun bullets, but we were agreeably surprised to find quite a number of shops open. The Municipal Building had been badly damaged internally, but it was certainly repairable. The Opera House was only apparently superficially damaged. We found, much to our annoyance, that the Ensa concert party had departed for Boulogne without anyone notifying the Transit Camp authorities! So we strolled back to the camp to find the cinema hut crowded, standing room only, and we decided against the cinema, deciding to have another walk around Calais.

January 18th, 4.0 p.m.

You will see I am now a long way from the Ardennes, but there is still plenty of snow here and a cold wind makes this place even colder than the Ardennes. We arrived here about 5 p.m. yesterday having stopped one night at Huy, living in the G.P.O.! It was a very difficult journey, the roads very slippery with a cold wind making driving difficult. However, we managed it with only a few minor accidents. One gun ran into a tree and damaged the gun somewhat. The most extraordinary accident was a Petrol lorry blowing up on a mine. The mine was buried under the snow and ice on the side of the road. The whole Regiment had passed over this section of the road (including my carrier). The petrol lorries were at the end of the column and presumably by the time they arrived the snow and ice had melted and its weight was sufficient to set off the mine. The back of the vehicle was blown off, but fortunately no one was in the back and only the driver was slightly injured. We are glad to be out of that country because when the thaw begins there are bound to be many mines uncovered.

When I arrived here I found that the letter I had written on Monday evening had not been posted. I was furious. I know we have been on the move, but they could have posted it on Tuesday, at least.

The people here speak Flemish only and only a very limited amount of French. So it is difficult to make oneself understood. They are hospitable but they are very short of food and luxuries and are really quite poor. I have a large double bedroom to myself—they supply the sheets, I supply the blankets. The couple have a little boy aged 6 months, I have only heard him so far.

Tydeman goes on leave to England to-morrow, so we shall be without him and shall miss him. I'm glad we are in billets and not in action, because I can give more attention to looking after myself. We have a temporary batman named Wright, but we cannot expect him to be as good as Tydeman. Sydney K. goes on leave on Monday. Time is flying quickly at the moment.

Shall have to finish this letter now. It is tea-time, and the mail is going in a few minutes. After tea, I will write again and finish my account of the journey back.

January 18th. 6.15 p.m.

Perhaps I can now finish my account of the journey back and quench your curiosity regarding my allusion to Norman.

I think I left you at Calais transit camp after we had returned to find the camp cinema crowded. As we were leaving the camp for another walk, a soldier approached the other officer regarding transport back. Apparently he was one of my Captain friend's men. During their talk, the soldier mentioned the name of Sgt. Kirby. Afterwards, as we walked away, I said, more or less as a shot in the dark, "Did that soldier mean Sgt. Norman Kirby, of the intelligence Staff?" To my astonishment the Captain said "Yes", "He is one of my Sgts. A very good chap, one of the best Sgts. I've ever had. He's the only one left in my office who landed on D day and so was one of the first men to get home leave. He is somewhere in the camp." I said I'd like to meet him as I had been trying to make his acquaintance. So we had a look around the camp, but could not see either Norman or the soldier who had spoken to the captain. We passed the cinema again and the Captain said, looking in at the crowded, smoky rooms "Well, there is one place you won't find Kirby".****

Disappointed, we continued our walk into Calais. The Captain was a little more conversational now, and told me he was in charge of the Administration of the H.Q. staff at 21 Army Group H.Q. and that Norman was a member of the staff. I asked about Norman's certificate from Montgomery. Apparently it was a certificate for good service. Monty makes a practice of personally signing and issuing any such certificates awarded to his own staff. (If they are awarded to others, they are usually rubber-stamped and sent by post.)

We managed a shave in a small barber's shop, cost 5 francs (6d.) each, partly to pass away time. We then went through the main shopping centre and the Capt. bought a schoolboy's hat for his son (aged 7) cost 110 francs (He said he had spent his leave trying to buy one in England). I looked for a French book for you, but could find nothing satisfactory.

I was expecting to travel to Bourg Leopold with the Capt., so did not give him any message for Norman. As it happened we got separated from each other and he was rather late in arriving at the station. They ran our train in two parts and he had to catch the second part, even though I had a seat saved for him.

The train journey back was even worse than down to Calais. We left C. at 4.45 p.m. and we did not arrive at B.L. until 11.30 a.m. Sunday. We stopped again at Lille station at 9 p.m. and had a hot meal in a buffet room (organised by the Army). The news was broadcast, which was quite a happy thought as one gets out of touch with events when on the move.

From Lille onwards, the engine was at the other end of the train and the steam in the heating system never got through to the last coaches. Also, we stopped for about 3 hours in a siding while they repaired the engine! The compartment was one of those family coaches, with a corridor down the middle. Each seat was only large enough for two, so there was no room to lie down straight. I was never a good sleeper in trains, at the best of times, so I had rather a cold and uncomfortable journey. We had haversack rations, fortunately, so we did not mind missing our breakfast.

At Bourg Leopold, things went fairly smoothly. We had lunch in the same mess as the new batch of officers going on leave. One could tell at a glance the officers going on leave from the officers returning from leave. The lucky men were all talking excitedly and volubly, and eating their meal with relish. The unlucky ones were glum and silent and silently wishing the other chaps didn't look quite so cheerful!

I had a little difficulty in finding my transport back. There was no truck from the Regiment and I had to catch a lorry sent from the Corps Reception Camp. We left Bourg Leopold at about 2.30 p.m. for a 50 mile journey to a place S.E. of Brussels. The snow here was very deep and the roads were very difficult. There was no transport at the camp so we had to stay the night in the village. I was given a very comfortable billet in a bedroom over a shop in the square. The people spoke French and were very pleasant. I was the 7th officer they had had in 3 days and they were calling themselves hotel-keepers!

I stayed in bed until 9 a.m. and was still having breakfast when a soldier called from the camp to say my truck had reported. So we packed up and collected our day's rations, etc., and set off. The driver said he knew the Regt. was due to move shortly and we wondered where we would finish up that day.

We prepared our own lunch (8 of us) in the village of Falmignoul (near Dinant) (where we had our Xmas dinner on Dec. 28th). The people of the house where we stopped for lunch were most surprised and delighted to see us again.

We made good progress and had a glorious view of the Meuse, looking very cold with lumps of ice floating on the surface. The Meuse valley between Namur and Dinant is very lovely and well worth a visit after the war.

We arrived at the unit about 4.30 p.m. and immediately began to have our legs pulled about our leave. "You' ve had it" is an Army phrase which has a bitter ring. The Regt. was in the small village of Warveigne near Bure. They were no longer in action (the enemy had withdrawn a considerable distance from that area), and were making preparations to move. An advance party had already gone. If I had been a day later I should have missed the move to here and had a comfortable time instead of an uncomfortable and cold journey. However, I am relieved to find the Regt. still resting and our chances of action in the near future seem remote. Providing we remain with this divisions we should be o.k. for some time.

Friday, 4.30 p.m. I have to take the bath party in to the nearest large town this evening. Should make a change but it is a bit of a tie going by yourself to a strange town at night. There should be a cinema, however, which should help to pass away the time.

Tydeman has been disappointed to-day as his leave has been postponed one day because of the 70 m.p.h. gale in the channel. We have had terrific winds all day with driving snow and hail-stones, but the wind has now dropped, and it is fine. We have had no mail yet, none since I arrived back. We hear the News broadcasts which keep us informed of the big Russian offensive.

Our B.C. is in bed with a temp. of 101, so things are a bit slack. Won't last, of course.

Must have tea, now. Am leaving at 5 p.m.

January 20th

Yesterday evening, after I had finished writing, I received your first two letters.

I'm sorry if you have been worried about the blanket, but I did intend to leave it behind. It was an American blanket from Zon and I thought it would be more useful at home. We were given another blanket when we went aboard ship on the return journey, so I was not cold. But I did forget the cushion cover, and if you could send it on, please do.

I had a most boring and uncomfortable time in Tirlemont where I took the bath party last night. I had difficulty in finding the baths as there were no lights on the signs indicating the route. The showers were in the centre of a large sugar beet factory, and we wandered around among the factory buildings until we finally discovered the right entrance.

After the baths (I did not have one and had to wait until all the men had finished) we returned to the centre of the town, left the vehicles in a car park and we dispersed until 22.00 hrs. Wandering around in a strange town in the dark is very depressing, especially for an officer. The O.R.s at least have company and can go into any café. I decided to find the cinema and stay close to it until the 8.15 performance began. When I at last discovered it, at 7.30 p.m., I found that the programme had started at 6.30 and there was no performance at 8.15. Anyway I went in and was fortunate enough to see the "big" film right through. But it was a stupid film, very old and poorly produced, so I did not really enjoy it.

The film finished before 9 p.m. and when I got outside I found it snowing heavily. I found a café open and bought a sandwich (20 francs). Rather weird inside, as the café was lit by only 2 candles, no electricity, and there were no other customers, just four men (friends of the owner) playing cards.

We left the square at 10 p.m. and had a very slow difficult journey back, with a strong wind blowing across the road, causing the blinding snow to form drifts along our side of the road. I was glad when we at last reached our village at midnight. Fortunately for me, they had saved me supper in the Mess and the family were still up and had kept it warm for me. They also made me a cup of coffee (ersatz) which was much appreciated.

I did not get to my own billet until 12.15 a.m. and as I had no key I'm afraid the owner had to get up and let me in. I tried to explain why I was late, but it was impossible and I gave it up. (Flemish – Flamsch, is difficult although men who come from Newcastle area find it easy!)

Tomorrow, Sunday, we have a dance in a small dance floor behind a café in the village. I expect it will be a rather rowdy affair, but no doubt the girls' mothers will keep the dance on a proper plane.

There was a wedding in the village this morning. Unfortunately I did not see it and only returned to the village in time to see the pair and the guests departing all together in the village bus.

January 2lst

Two lovely letters from you to-day which have cheered me up.

Re the books, I think I have all the drawing books I can cope with at the moment. I think you might like the book I am reading at the moment "Reflections in a Mirror" by Charles Morgan. It is a collection of essays, mainly reviews published in Times Literary Supplement. It is, in many ways, an essay in search of values and I find it very apposite at the moment, some of the essays striking familiar chords in my own thoughts.

The book belongs to the Major, who is still in bed with a temp. of 100, but his condition is not giving the M.O. any worry.

I hope you will realise by now that we are not in the Sittard battle. It is quite a small affair, really part of Monty's tidiness.

It has been sunny and clear all day, after another night of snow. In the morning I had my first real view of a V.1. which went roaring overhead on its way to Antwerp. They really are most devilish weapons, they have a long quivering jet of flame behind which looks as evil as the venom of a snake and the mouth of a flaming dragon. In the distance we heard the A.A. barrage going up but did not hear the bomb explode, so maybe it got through. We heard them shoot one down yesterday. The barrage is a long way from us, so you need not fear that they will shoot them down on us!

This afternoon I went a walk in the snow by myself. It was refreshing in the sunlight and gave me an opportunity to be alone for a while.

Well, to-night is the Battery dance. It is a small hall and will be crowded with soldiers. How many women will arrive, I don't know.

January 22nd

We have just had the February leave draw. We have exactly half the allotment we had in Jan., i.e. one officer and 17 men as opposed to 2 and 35. Of the 17 men, 7 are from my Troop, so we have done very well in comparison with A.Tp. who have only 3. The other 7 come from Battery H.Q. staff. Sgt. Lowe is one of the lucky men, so he will have an opportunity of seeing his new baby at last, probably before I shall see ours. The lucky officer is Harry Treble, which is in some ways unfair as he was not a D day officer. However, that's how it goes.

Ron Dorey is off on 48 hours leave to Brussels to-morrow. Should be my turn, but as I have just returned from England my turn is being postponed. Provided the leave system continues, it should work out fairly in the end.

To-day has been the start of our training programme, such as it is! Nothing much to report except that we had a short route march in the afternoon. It is difficult to know what to do out of doors when we have so few facilities.

The dance last night seems to have been enjoyed by most of the men, but it was not my idea of a dance. The officers looked in at the café at about 9.30 p.m. Several of the men had already had too much to drink and were making nuisances of themselves. The civilians were admitted free and there was quite a crowd in the tiny dance hall, so that dancing on the small floor was difficult. There was a ten-piece band, perched up on a stage at one end of the hall, that seemed to know only three tunes, at least that's what it sounded like. One dance was very popular with the civilians who insisted on dancing it at least three times in the half hour that I stayed. There were very young children running round and I saw two babies in arms. Some of the men were dancing in their greatcoats and trilby hats and some of the women danced with their coats on, too.

I did not have a dance and went back to the Mess for a quiet read at about 10 p.m. Goodness knows what time the dance ended, must have been after midnight. The band gave its services free, requesting only refreshments and drink and transport free.

I only wish we could get billeted in, or very near to, a large town, we could have so many more amenities. We are so reliant on our very limited resources that it becomes very difficult to entertain and amuse our soldiers. They find quite a fair amount of pleasure in living in billets, however, and there are not many who want to go out at nights.

Am enclosing Will's letter. He seems to be having a slightly better time than the last letters he wrote, when he talked of leeches and insects and rain making life miserable.

I have now seen the baby in my billet, in fact the lady of the house calmly fed it in front of me yesterday, a little to my embarrassed amusement. Honestly, until I saw this baby, I did not really realise how fine and beautiful a baby Daniel is. This baby has such small eyes, fat, pear-shaped cheeks and a receding chin, that at first I wondered whether I was looking at a little pig!

January 23rd

This must be a short note. I have a parade at 6 p.m. A.B.C.A. and I intend to discuss Churchill's speech with them. We were fortunate to receive last Friday's Times which gives a full report of the speech. I shan't attempt to copy Churchill's style, otherwise we shall be there all evening.

To-day I played Football in the snow. We lost 2 – 0, Although we played only 20 minutes each half I found it very tiring running and slipping on the snow. It was quite an enjoyable game, however.

We had a boiled egg and toast for tea, which made quite a pleasant change. We got the eggs by a process of barter for some tinned sausages. The people here are extremely short of food. Yesterday, some of the officers left their fat bacon at breakfast. The batmen were going to throw it away, but were stopped by the lady of the house, who asked for it. That night, the family of 5 had the fat for their evening meal. They seem to have only potatoes to eat, and not many of them either. Certainly it is difficult living in Belgium just now. This family, however, are doing fairly well out of us, because our batmen manage to save sufficient out of our rations to give the family some at each meal.

January 24th

Have played football this afternoon again, this time against R.H.Q. After rather a good tussle, we won 4–3, which quite cheered up my team. Kit is our chief difficulty, especially boots, and we have to borrow boots from the other batteries. If too many teams are playing them we have to go short. I had my glasses knocked off by the ball, but fortunately there was plenty of snow and the glasses never broke.

Not very much else to tell about our activities I read most of Churchill's speech last night to the Tp., but I don't think they were very interested. I read the interruptions as well, but did not have time to read Greenwood's reply.

We have received two new officers, to-day, a Lieut. Warren and a Lieut. Lowther, both older than any of our previous officers. It is too early to assess them yet.

David Benson went to bed to-day with a cold and temp. Looks as though the B.C.'s cold is going through the Mess. I think I will ward it off by playing football. If I can survive falling down in the snows getting my bare legs cold and with snow creeping down to my feet between my socks and my ankles, then I think I can keep off any colds.

7.30 p.m. I have been finding new billets for the new officers. I am temporarily Mess Secretary while Sydney Kalbraier is away. As we were walking up the road a Jeep skidded in front of us and finished in a ditch. The roads are very treacherous to night, although we have not had any snow for a few days.

I wonder if you will see the funny side of this conversation in the Mess, I nearly went into hysterics.

B.C. "Fascinating subject, Egyptology."

Harry Treble: "Rather!"

B.C. "Have you read Leonard Woolley's book on King Tut?"

Harry Treble: "No, but I once saw a horror film with Boris Karlov as a mummy!"

A rather damning tribute to modern education.

January 25th

No letter again to-day, but as no one else in the Mess has received any letters, I can only assume that mail is delayed.

It has been another cold, clear day, too cold to work out of doors, but we had to, painting our guns! Anyway, that is better than fighting so we won't grumble. We really are becoming "soft". It's such a long time since we really saw any action.

The B.C. went to Brussels last night to fetch back Capt. Wood who has been in hospital there since before Xmas with jaundice. B.C. stayed the night and returned this morning with John Wood. John is quite well again, glad to say. David is still in bed, should be up to-morrow.

Life here is pretty dull on the whole. We spend most, if not all, our evenings in the Mess, reading or writing. However, it is difficult to read solidly in the evening as the Mess is small and there is only one fire around which we all (8) crouch, listening to the wireless or making conversation. The wireless is usually playing dance music and jazz. We tried to listen to the Symphony concert last night, but reception was too poor.

We have just learned that one of our motorcyclists, Gunner Walters, has died of injuries he received the day we moved up here from the Ardennes. While riding his motorcycle, an American lorry ran into him from behind, having skidded on the icy road. If he could have lived 3 days, the doctors said he would recover, but he died on the second day after the accident. He was one of the oldest members of B Troop, having joined the Troop before the war as a territorial; he had always ridden a motorcycle, and was our best D/R The American drivers are really terrors on the road and we are lodging a very strong complaint and demanding a Court of Inquiry to try and make an example of the case.

I have now finished Morgan's book "Reflections in a Mirror". The majority of the essays do not hold the promise of his first three essays and I must admit a certain disappointment. I liked the last essay on "Unrelated Knowledge", but beyond that the essays were too literary and too stylish to be important.

January 26th

Just a short note. I have been playing football this afternoon, while it was snowing and drizzling and very cold. Only fools or soldiers under orders play in such conditions, we were both. Afterwards I had a hurried tea and had to go to Regiment for a lecture which took an hour or more.

We lost 3–2 in our match to-day. We played with only 10 men as one of our team scratched at the last moment. He complained of a bad leg, but probably the weather put him off. The weather put us all off, but we had to play, the B.C. wouldn't hear of us cancelling the game, despite the fact that both captains wanted to scratch the game. The weather was appalling when we started, but the snow ceased at half-time. Running in the wet snow is very tiring, and we were quite thankful when the final whistle went.

I may not write to-morrow if there is any possibility of going into Louvain, or some such town, for a visit. Probably something like that will be organised.

The news continues to be good, although progress is slower.

We have had another selection of Penguin books sent us from W.H. Smith. I think we purchase a dozen or so each month from them, letting them do the selection. I have undertaken the task of Battery librarian as it looks as though we may be here long enough to get quite a few books read.

Must close now, as I am holding up the despatch of the mail.

I have not done my share of censoring to-night, but as I usually do more than my share I am not worried.

January 27th

We did not go to Louvain after all. The B.C. has invited the Captain Quartermaster from R.H.Q. to supper to night and in consequence all the officers will have to stay in to meet him. Rather curious, this Mess etiquette of inviting persons to your Mess. The usual people to be invited are Officers at Regiment who obtain supplies for you, such as the Q., the Technical Adjutant or the R.E.M.E. Captain. It is good policy to keep on the right side of these people in order to get good service with articles that are scarce or if you want special work done. The M.O. and Padre (when we have one) are also on the list for invitations. Visitors always cause Mess Secretaries headaches because one has to provide special dishes for them. We have nothing very special for him to-night, but we had waffles for tea made by the people of the house. You need a special waffling iron (but perhaps you know all about them.)

They are very delicious and everyone enjoyed them. They need eggs of course, but we have been fortunate recently in getting quite a good supply of eggs. We barter tinned meat and vegetables for them and the villagers are only too glad of the opportunity to have variety in their food.

It has been trying to snow again and is still very cold. My shaving brush and flannel are always frozen in the morning (my bedroom is not particularly warm) and to-night the weather report promises us a minimum temperature of 10oF.

We (that is, five officers) went into Diest this afternoon to do a little shopping. We found an Officers Shop quite by chance and I was able to buy two of those shirts I had tried to get in Reading. I also bought a tie (1/-) and a toothbrush (9d).

I then discovered a bookshop which sold French books and bought a book for you. I have really no idea what the book is about or whether you will like it. My first choice turned out to be a girls' book and then I saw this book with a few others from the same edition. Pierre Benoit is the author, "Lunegarde" the book. I wonder if you have read it?

I am in two minds whether to read it first before sending it, but on second thoughts I will send it now. It might then arrive in time for your convalescence in the Home. Also, it is a new book and the pages have not yet been cut. As I know the delight you take in cutting your own pages, I won't spoil that pleasure for you. But I'm tempted to cut them myself! You will probably say that I bought the book because of the illustrations (that is certainly what the other members of the Mess think.) but, although that did influence me somewhat, it was only because they gave me some clue as to the theme of the book. Ron Dorey says he has heard of the author.

Anyway, I thought I couldn't go far wrong as it is a De Luxe Edition and cost 100 francs, about the most expensive book in the shop. They are not likely to spend so much on really bad books.

January 28th

I heard the news over the telephone. The adjutant (or rather Acting Adjutant) Peter Deshon, rang up at quarter to eleven this morning and told me the joyous news. I have not yet seen the telegram, but I believe that he said "Daughter born January 25th. Both doing well. Pollard" but I'm not quite sure of my memory. I was too excited except to remember the date and the fact that it was Julia and that you were both well. I was so excited that I thought I should forget the date in my excitement and had to write it down on a piece of paper, much to the astonishment of Lt. Warren who was in the Mess with me at the time. The other officers were on inspections and Church parades so they did not hear of it until later. Everyone has been congratulating me, including my Sergeants and some of the Gunners who had heard the news.

I am dying to hear all the details of her weight and looks and what time she arrived and how you are.

I'm glad it wasn't the 26th, but it is near enough to make it easier for me to remember the birthdays and how old each one is. I can always remember that Daniel is 1 year and 8 months older than Julia.

I have not yet had a chance to celebrate, but there is another dance to-night and no doubt should have some opportunity then. I hope it will be a better dance than the last, we are having a different band, at least, and charging admission for the civilians so as not to overcrowd it.

It snowed very heavily again last evening and night but I managed to keep warm in bed by sleeping inside my silk sleeping bag (as well as between sheets and blankets.). I woke about three times to hear flying bombs on their way over, with guns firing at then. There were 4 the night before. The B.C. said he heard one going over and he woke up to find himself on the floor! Must have been a quick nervous physical reaction before his mental reaction was sufficiently awake. He certainly is scared at air raids. He said he thought the village was being bombed!

I certainly think the Russian offensive will shorten the war considerably, but I cannot see it interfering seriously with our part in the fighting just yet. Certainly, the Germans must withdraw some troops from the West, but not enough for our liking unless their losses have been greater than we know.

Lt. Lowther (a Scot) reminds me that Jan. 25th is a most auspicious birthday, the anniversary of Robert Burns.

January 29th

I have been busy to-day, invigilating at an examination of all our Technical Assistants. It has involved sitting in a cold school room, keeping time while the Assistants answer the questions. It has taken all day to-day indoors. To-morrow we shall be out all day, and it is going to be very cold. Very cold to-day everywhere, but sunny and bright. So long as the sun shines to-morrow and the wind does not blow we should survive. But I doubt whether I shall escape a cold this winter. I have still a slight cough which is beginning to get worse.

Our days here seem to be numbered, but the air is only full of rumours at the moment.

January 30th

There is not much news from this end. I have been invigilating again all day. The weather was too bad to go out of doors and we had to postpone the practical part of the exam. until to-morrow. Last night I stayed up till 12.30 a.m., marking the day's papers. We managed to finish earlier to-day.

It has rained a little to-day although it seems as cold as ever. I still sleep at nights in my silk sleeping bag and keep deliciously warm, I have almost finished eating the last of the lovely gingerbread you made. I eat a little piece each day, to make it last as long as possible. I'm sure it is the nicest Mrs. Nelson's that you have ever made. I am keeping most of the biscuits until we move again.

Incidentally, I did not send off your book until Sunday evening. I hope it arrives quickly, I marked it "By Letter Post" in the hope it would go by the usual air service.

January 31st

I'm afraid you may be without news from me for a little while as I may not be able to get my letters posted for a few days. It looks, too, with the current weather, that I am going to have an uncomfortable time, because after to-morrow night I expect to be living in the open. Not in any danger, I assure you, except from the weather. I will try and write as often as possible and will make every attempt to get letters posted, but I cannot guarantee it. I don't expect to hear from you either, because I'm sure your letters will not be forwarded on to me. At least, I shall be surprised if they are.

Am glad to say that Tydeman returned from leave to-day and it will be a great help to have him with me. He has a cold, I'm afraid. I don't feel too good, but no doubt we shall survive. It may not be as bad as we at first thought.

Now I must close to pack and make arrangements.

Jan. 31st. (written earlier in the evening). Have been busy all day out in the open. It has rained most of the afternoon but I kept quite dry in my Tank-Suit. We look like being busy to-night as our future plans have become uncertain again. Perhaps, we shall know a little more later on this evening.

We heard Hitler's speech on the radio at 10.15 p.m. yesterday. Quite subdued opening and only occasionally raising his voice to its old intensity. He seemed to be speaking in a large empty hall giving his voice a depth and enlarging it to give you the impression of a God condescending to speak to his subjects. Rather clever, really, and quite impressive, I'm sure. The news from Russia remains remarkably good, the Russians have achieved far more than I ever thought possible, but about the future I prefer to wait and see.

My shoes and cushion cover arrived safely to-night and the Manchester Guardian, but no letters.

February 4th

A short note, written in a hurry and not in too comfortable surroundings. John Wood is waiting to go out on a tour of administration and hopes to post the Regiment's mail. I say hopes, because he is not too sure that he will find anyone to take it for us.

We are now living our old troglodyte life in a fairly luxurious way. We are in a wood and have dug ourselves in and have dry and roomy quarters. John and I are using our camp beds and Tydeman is looking after us.

If only we could make the clerk of the Weather into a batman we should be very comfortable. Yesterday, our first full day here, was lovely and warm and sunny and we had visions of an early Spring. Even the young tits found something to sing about. But to-day it is cold and miserably wet and we are confined to our tents. Except for cold feet (literal, not metaphorical) I am quite warm and comfortable.

The nights, however, are long and dark, we have no light and no fire, so we go to bed as early as possible! And arise late. This morning I had breakfast in bed and did not get up until 9.45.

The whole battery, it appears, have had an attack of dysentery, probably through some bad drinking water. Wednesday night had been spent in a school in a large town and we had had to draw water from the neighbouring houses owing to a burst pipe in the school. Some of the containers could not have been too clean, either. However, all is well and no one seems to have suffered very badly from it all.

John is putting on his coat, so I shall have to come to an unwilling finish. I do so hope you are not worrying about me, because there is nothing to worry about, just that mail is difficult to get through. Yesterday I had 5 raspberries! How's that for February.

February 5th

It has not stopped raining since yesterday, and so far this morning I have not ventured out of my tent. I feel sure there must be a lot of work I could do, but I cannot think of anything which really justifies me in getting wet. I must, however, go out soon to get some exercise. I went to bed at 8.0 p.m. yesterday and did not get up till 9.45 a.m. to-day.

I managed to get in two hours of reading yesterday evening. John and I pulled a motorcycle into our tent and we read by the light of its headlamp! I have been reading Politics Made Plain, by T.L. Horrabin, which is a scathing denunciation of the Tory policy over the last 25 years. To me, he makes things too plain and his obvious bias rather spoils ones appreciation of the book. However, it is interesting to relive the politics of these years and to remember ones own feelings and reactions at the time. I think all people who write about those events want to remember that the events are still very vivid to most people and they have a shrewd idea of what was happening then. One cannot therefore be too biassed or too obviously anti-Tory without the readers noticing the obviousness and rejecting the whole argument, in judging the events of the last 10 years, we judge ourselves.

1.30 p.m. Have had lunch (4 pieces of bread and margarine and apricot jam and a fish rissole, with a mug of tea, and a bar of chocolate—very good. We have our hot meal at about 5 p.m.), have scribbled a short note to Mother, and a buzz bomb has passed overhead on its way to Antwerp!

We hear and see several buzz bombs each day but we are not in any danger from them ourselves as we are too near the enemy. They make quite a noise on their way over.

I don't think I told you that the snow had all gone, but I think you must have guessed that from the mention of rain. The snow disappeared almost in one night, last Tuesday; we are glad to see it go because we can keep much warmer in this present weather. I think the thaw precipitated our sudden move. We heard at 6.15 p.m. on Wednesday that we were to move at 7.30 a.m. on Thursday, so it meant packing in the dark and leaving before light. However, we managed it successfully.

You would be impressed by the efficiency of the Army. On the way up we had two vehicles develop engine trouble, too serious to be repaired immediately. Within 6 hours we had two completely new vehicles with all their equipment in place of the two old ones and we did not have to delay our journey by one minute. All this in a strange town and amongst different units whom we are not accustomed to deal with.

There is still no sign of mail arriving. I am longing to hear all your latest news of yourself and Julia and Daniel.

February 6th

I did not have time to write this morning, because I got up so late! Also, just about midday when I thought I would have some time to write some new instructions arrived and I had a little work to do.

The rain has fortunately stopped and we have been able to enjoy being out of doors. The roads and tracks through the woods, though, are now in a fearful condition, almost rivers of mud and full of unexpected pot-holes. I had a most uncomfortable ride on the pillion of a motor cycle, having to jump off every 5 yards or so find help push the cycle out of a hole or up a mud bank.

We are in for a disturbed night to-night, as the remainder of the Regiment is due to arrive something like 2.30 a.m. to-morrow and John and I will have to get up and see them settled in.

So I look like getting some mail pretty soon and shall know more of your progress and about Julia and Daniel. But also I look like being particularly busy during the next few days, so you must expect another short period without mail.

February 10th

Beginning of the REICHSWALD BATTLE

I am sure you must be getting very miserable without any mail from me. It seems ages since I last wrote, although I think I posted a letter to you only 3 days ago. I am afraid I had to finish off that letter (written on the 6th, I think) in a hurry on the 7th on the eve of the great artillery barrage.

The rest of the Battery arrived in the woods about breakfast time on the 7th. We had a terrific amount of work to do in preparation for the next day's attack and we were busy right up to 10 p.m. I then tried to snatch some sleep, but took a long time in dropping off owing to the noise of our planes circling overhead on their way to bomb a town just behind the German front line. The noise of planes and bombs went on for a long time.

I was up soon after 4.0 a.m. and at 4.0 the "Milk Round" started. The Milk Round is what Gen. Horrocks terms his counter-battery fire—the neutralisation of the enemy artillery. All the guns in the world seemed to be firing at once and the din was simply terrifying. The trees made everything sound twice as loud as the leaves and branches threw back the sound. The A.A. guns were firing tracer shells and the sky seemed filled with tiny balls of red and pink flame sliding through the air. This went on without pause until 9.45 a.m. and at 10 a.m. the big barrage started. We were firing continuously until 3.0 p.m. when we moved forward.

I spent the night of the 8th/9th working in my half track and trying to keep awake, expecting the next lot of firing to begin at any hour. We had had a lot of difficulty in reaching our new position, the ground being soft and treacherous. It rained during the night and made the ground worse then ever.

Only once during the day did we notice a pause in the firing, and that was at 6.45 p.m., when for two minutes not a sound was heard. The firing went on all night all around us.

We had had breakfast at 6.0 a.m. and apart from biscuits and cheese and a cup of tea at midday we had no hot meal until 9.30 p.m.

During the night some enemy shells fell close to us, one landed within 20 yards of my truck and splinters hit the truck. Two pieces went through the canvas sides passing right through the truck and out the other side, one piece missing my head by inches! The other piece missed by about 2 feet, hit the metal support for the roof and went out through the window at the back. The noise of the explosion or the splinter hitting the metal support, or both together, deafened me in my left ear and my head is still singing a bit now. It is going off, though, and should be o.k. soon.

Fortunately no one was hurt, although the tent in which the half track crew were sleeping was punctured in a few places.

We began firing again at 4.0 a.m. on the 9th and continued firing for quite a time before we moved off. We journeyed across the battlefield which had been the scene of the previous day's barrages. It now looked like the battle scenes of the last war, gaunt trees, scarred and broken, without a vestige of foliage, empty shells of houses, hay ricks still burning, trenches and dug-outs caved in, everywhere the pockmarks of shell craters. There were no signs of any recent dead, although there were some ugly sights of dead German soldiers who must have been dead for many weeks, if not months, still unburied.

Last night, we stayed on the outskirts of a much bombed town in Germany, sleeping in one room on the ground floor. The infantry were using the cellar as a Coy. H.Q. There were no windows in the house or doors, part of the bedroom roof had been blown away, and the ceiling in our room was cracked and broken.

I managed to get to bed at 10 p.m., feeling a little sick as well as tired. Had not been in bed long before a Jerry plane dropped his bombs quite close, the nearest bomb being 100 yards away. The house rocked and plaster fell off the ceiling on to the sleepers below. I woke up at midnight feeling bilious, and was thoroughly sick. More bombs dropped a little further away, but I was feeling too miserable to worry about bombs! I was still feeling miserable and a bit feverish this morning and stayed in bed. We were expecting to move any moment, but I took a chance. I got up at lunch time, but I have not yet felt like eating anything. I think the biliousness was indigestion due to overwork and the shock of the shell. Anyway, I think the worst is over now, and I feel better now that I am up.

We look like staying here another night, so I should have a chance to get a good night's rest to-night.

When, if ever, I shall be able to answer all your letters, I don't know. I received a bundle of 12 letters on the 7th, including one from your Mother. We are hoping for some more mail this afternoon. I think your letters have made me feel better, and I may be able to manage some food soon. But our present food is very unappetising.

February 13th

I'm sure of the date, but not the day! We have moved twice since I last wrote to you, not very far each time. It rained consistently both days and what with flooding after the thaw, everything was either under water or under mud. Certainly moving around these days is no joke. We are expecting to move on again to-day, but again not very far. It is fine at the moment, but it is clouding over again and will probably rain soon.

The night before last we were sleeping out in the open and it snowed for quite a while. Fortunately for me I was on duty in the half track and for once in a while we had enough paraffin to light our calor stove. So I kept very warm in the truck, but of course did not have a very comfortable night, my "couch" consisting of 3 flat tin boxes, of different sizes, covered with a small sheepskin rug. You can't stretch your legs without kicking the signaller who is also crouched up at one end of the truck. But it is surprising how much sleep one can get.

Yesterday was a little unpleasant in some ways. We got stuck in the middle of a ruined town. The devastation is something unbelievable, not one house remains undamaged, The bulldozers had been through clearing the main roads and the piles of rubble on either side make the destruction seem even worse. While we were waiting our turn to move on, Jerry started shelling the centre of the town quite heavily, and the sound of the shells bursting seemed very loud and close in the confined area of rubble. Actually we ought not to have been in the town, we had somehow got in front of the column. So we had to turn our vehicles round in the narrow "streets" (or rather "avenues of rubble") and get them back out of the town past other great and cumbersome vehicles.

All the afternoon, Jerry kept sending heavy shells into the town, one or two at a time, just harassing fire. The shells were passing overhead and kept us "on the listen" all the time. A few fell uncomfortably short, but not near enough to damage us.

In the end we spent a comfortable night in one of the few houses on the outskirts which had suffered very little damage.

Yesterday morning, while waiting on the roadside, one of our trucks arrived which had broken down 6 days ago. It brought with it 3 sacks of mail including for me 3 papers and two letters from you, one dated 30 Jan. and the other 7 Feb! I do wish I had received the 30 Jan. letter earlier, because it explains many references in later letters I have received which have puzzled me.

1.30 p.m. Tydeman has just cooked us a lovely dinner of boiled rabbit, potatoes and leeks, with boiled rice and stewed plums to follow. One of the biggest meals we have had since the last time we were in this country. The rabbit had been a tame one, but had escaped from its hutch and was roaming around the gardens. It certainly made a change from the grade III cold salmon we would normally have eaten at lunch time. I have seen enough cold salmon now to last me a long long time!

6.30 p.m. Shall have to finish this now. We have not moved, but have been busy all afternoon. I am very well, so you need not worry about my health.

February 16th

Ink at last, but I can't guarantee a decent letter because we are still doing quite a lot of firing. It's a brighter day in many ways to-day, although a mist and haze spoil operations. We have moved twice since I last wrote a letter (I sent you a card yesterday)—I think the letter was written from a house on the edge of a much bombed town.

Well, this letter is being written in a cellar of a house not far from the front line. Not far enough for our liking, in fact when we moved in yesterday we were only 1000 yards from the front, and didn't we know it!

However, where we are the people certainly know how to build cellars, in fact one suspects that the cellars were built for military reasons! Anyway, I was very thankful for this one which makes an ideal Command Post. Yesterday I hardly left it for one moment, and that only when I had to.

We were very fortunate in suffering no casualties. Things are much easier to-day, and I don't expect us to be quite so close again. The night before last we occupied a farmhouse where the civilians were still living. I had the unpleasant task of turning them out again, but there were other houses at the other end of the village. They were all women, except one very old man, and two small children, one girl looking very pretty with long curly hair and wearing a pair of trousers. The little girl began to cry, but someone gave her a piece of chocolate and she cheered up. We did not damage the house or remove anything and as we moved out before dawn in the morning they should have been able to get back again. If I had been a small party I should not have bothered to turn them out, but I have to sleep about 30 to 40 men, and a house with a cellar is the only suitable place these days. And I must put my men (and myself) first. But I certainly find the whole business most distasteful.

In this row of houses where we now are, two young women have returned to the house occupied by the Battery Command Post. They have nowhere to live and they are being allowed a room on the ground floor. They speak English a little and were most indignant when they found the damage done to the interior of the house by British troops. The first British troops into houses do make a quick ransacking of the house and, if they stay a night, the place does get in a shambles, and is left in a shambles because they leave in a hurry. The women annoyed me by saying (to someone) "German soldiers don't do this to other people's houses"! I wanted to take them through Holland and Belgium and France and show them what German soldiers do. Certainly civilians have no conception of warfare, and I think that is true of all countries.

I have received your letters posted on the 9th and 10th Feb. My gratuity sounds very small. As a cadet I received Private's pay! although I believe now they issue a special rate of pay.

Am looking forward to receiving the hose-tops, we wear our Wellingtons quite a lot some days. It is much drier here, however, than in our previous positions.

February 18th

The post went early to-day and I had only time to send you a card although we have not been particularly busy ourselves. We moved forward, yesterday, and left the comfort and shelter of our cellar for the wide open spaces. It was almost dark before we arrived and we had to dig ourselves in in the dark and a fine drizzle. We managed to get our tent up without getting too wet, but the command post itself was not too pleasant. However, it was my turn on night duty so we ran a phone to the tent from the Command post hole and I rested on my bed. As there was very little to do during the night, I was able to get quite a lot of rest.

It has rained quite a lot all day—and the ground is very sticky. We evacuated the Command Post from its hole and I am now writing from the comparative comfort of my truck.

Our sleeping quarters are now better. In place of the piece of canvas we have used as a tent, we now have a proper tent with its own poles and sack of pegs and a mallet. We have also acquired a stove and a length of piping for a chimney and when the fire is installed inside the tent, we can keep reasonably warm. A layer of straw on the ground completes the comfort. The tent is just large enough to sleep 8 people. Each gun now carries one of these tents and they certainly have made a lot of difference to the comfort of the men.

Our truck now looks like a travelling caravan with odd pans and buckets suspended from the rear, a stove and chimney stack draped on the front and a large wardrobe on the roof to carry our bedding, etc! A little trailer at the rear would just about complete the picture.

To-day I received your parcel containing the hose-tops and the gloves. The hose-tops are marvellous, and just what I wanted.

They will be a great boon. I have not yet had time to try them on, but by the look of them I should think they are just the right size and length.

I remember the gloves now, and they have come at an opportune moment, having just lost a pair of gloves on one of these many moves. You have cleaned them for me, I see, and it certainly has improved them, but alas they won't stay as clean as that for long.

I am enclosing a snap taken by Bob Kiln of some of the B Troop Command Post when we were at Chouain in Normandy. Bob came along just as we were opening the mail one Sunday. I think I had not been up long after a spell of night duty. You would imagine from the photo that we were in a wood. Actually it is an artificial copse. We were under a tree and the men planted branches in a circle round the tree until we were completely shut in.

B Troop, Chouain, June 1944; Sidney Beck at far left

B Troop, Chouain, June 1944; Sidney Beck at far left


John Craston is now in India, flew out to Calcutta in 30 hours. He went as priority No. 1, pursued by "hurry-up" telegrams from the War Office at every landing stage. When they finally reached India they found they were intended to take part in the Akyab landings which had already taken place! So he is now kicking his heels, expecting to get a training job or something in Calcutta.

One of my Gunners, Gunner Merchant, went off on leave yesterday. He is going to phone you up when he arrives. I phoned his wife. He will probably tell you where I am. The town you mentioned is now on my list. We were there when you thought we were. We left it a day or two ago, when Jerry was bombing it with his Jet planes. Quite an exciting time, really, our stay in that town.

We have received some newspapers and even had yesterday's paper to-day. We are encouraged by the Russian advances. Marshal Koniev is achieving great things. Our progress seems painfully slow compared with his, but our conditions are much worse and the defences much more strongly prepared.

I am feeling much better in myself. A little more peace and quiet and I shall be quite well again. Could do with a good bath and a hair-cut, neither of which have I had since leaving England!

I am very sorry I forgot Mother's birthday, I have been too preoccupied. One develops a very selfish attitude when a battle is on, thinking entirely in terms of ones own problems and dangers. Also, I have no other officers to assist me (Harry Treble is still on leave, and Sydney Kalbraier is doing his job). If it was not for the fact that I have a very excellent Sergeant as my assistant, Sydney Stow, I should have been a physical wreck by now. Stow really is a first class man for his job and helps me considerable. Tydeman, too, is a godsent.

February 20th

The possibility of another move is in the air again. I certainly don't relish the idea as it has been raining all day and the ground is very wet and slippery. Yesterday it was pleasantly fine and we almost saw the sun.

I think most of us are now feeling a lot better—I am certainly much better than I was and I am beginning to appreciate my food more. We had a little more excitement last night when we had to "stand to" at midnight when the enemy were reported to have counter-attacked and approached within a mile of our position. Everyone began to get alarmed and wondered what was going to happen. Actually the counter-attack had taken place earlier in the evening and had already been repulsed by the time we got the warning and the danger was already over and past. However, in our ignorance we stayed on the alert until almost 1.30 a.m., when it was decided safe to "stand down". I don't think the enemy ever got to a mile from our position. I think someone got alarmed, and exaggerated. In this open country, with soft, sandy soil, noises are very clear and travel far. We often think shells are landing on our position when in reality they are falling 2 or 3 thousand yards away. It is all very disturbing and one is in a state of constant alertness. If anyone switches on the wireless in our tent everyone instinctively ducks and hugs the ground, as it makes a peculiar whistling sound until it is properly warmed up! (It is a civilian set adapted by Sgt. Stow to run off Army batteries. He uses our telephone lines as an aerial and the whole contraption is quite a marvellous affair. Unfortunately reception is not too good and Radio Arnhem provides most of our programme. However, we can sometimes manage to get B.B.C. news which is much more informative. They (Arnhem) are trying a new form of propaganda now, trying to persuade the British soldiers to join forces with the Germans to fight Russia. "You are going the right way, going East" they say to the British, "that's the way Germany wants to go. Why do you make it harder for her?"

They are also trying to make out that the British and Germans are really old pals, giving so called "instances" where British soldiers, taking Germans prisoner, have discovered that they knew each other very well before the war and how they have greeted each other as long lost friends.

This is certainly not the line the German propaganda is taking to their own troops, the British soldier is still an enemy and always has been an enemy

4.30 p.m. Interruption for several shoots. Am sorry about the rain on the first few sheets. I had to put the paper down in a hurry and the rain splashed in through the window while I was busy.

I am wearing your lovely hose-tops. They really are just right and look very smart, in fact I shall be inclined to wear my Wellingtons every day and all day for the pleasure of showing them off. They keep my legs lovely and warm.

I have had an opportunity of reading Time and Tide to-day (arrived yesterday) and enjoyed reading the articles by the Editor and G.B. Shaw on Shaw's attitude to democracy. Frankly I am disappointed in Shaw who seems to have lapsed into second childhood. I am certainly disgusted with him when he says he does not believe in government by the people, and goes on to state that he is a superman, and that the supermen should be given more powers and privileges to govern. Although I am willing to recognise that the people are not yet fully able for capable to govern and have to be led and directed to a certain extent, they really must retain the right to govern themselves and must be educated up to govern themselves. Any other way can only lead to ruin. How Shaw can be so blind as to ignore this vital aspect of democracy I cannot imagine. The Editor of Time & Tide states her case very well indeed.

You see, things must be easier if I can write of other things than the war. I hope I have not worried you too unduly by my previous letters, although I know I cannot stop you from worrying.

February 21st

We moved forward this morning and I was too busy to write you other than a hasty field card. I have been managing all day by myself, even without my Sergeant-Major who has been whisked away for three days. No joke running a troop without your troop leader or T.S.M. I protested strongly but to no avail. However, this evening Sydney Kalbraier returned to me as Troop Leader, Harry Treble having returned from leave. He got back much easier than I anticipated. Naturally he is very "cheesed off" having to return to this life. He got engaged while on leave. He said he had tried to phone you but that a V2 had disorganised things. I don't know how many times he tried, probably much too full with his engagement. I am very glad he is back, from a purely selfish point of view.

It has been a lovely sunny day to-day, with blue skies and white clouds giving us a lovely foretaste of spring. If only man did not spoil it, it would be pleasant here in weather like to-day. Instead of the singing of birds we have the crackle of guns and the whistling of shells.

The day, too, has been remarkable for the aerial activity on both sides. Our Typhoons have been literally lining up in the sky waiting their turn to dive on to targets which have proved a thorn in our side.

In the afternoons many squadrons of medium bombers were over bombing targets not far behind the front, close enough for us to hear the explosions and see the "mushrooms" of smoke billowing up. Then in the morning and early evening we were visited by a few of the German jet-propelled planes. I say we, meaning the British and Canadian armies, because the planes did not attack my troop. Each plane was greeted with the most terrific concentration of A.A. fire that I have ever seen and the sky at one time seemed literally filled with puffs of A.A. smoke. We did not see any shot down despite the fierceness and accuracy of the barrage, but it is quite possible that some were damaged and even possibly destroyed, one cannot watch the whole affair at the same time. Certainly the jet plane is a plane to be reckoned with but it has its limitations and is not as yet a very dangerous weapon, more of a nuisance I should say.

We are in another open field but we do not really mind that this weather, especially with our tent and its stove.

February 22nd

No time to finish this last evening. It was a cold night with a sharp frost, but to-day is lovely and sunny again, with a distant mist. Aerial activity so far has been limited to our own planes, but perhaps the early evening will bring us the jet planes.

I have had no letters from you or anyone for a few days. That is general, everyone complains of the same thing. We have had a few old bundles of newspapers and magazines, etc., and up till two days ago we were receiving a few up-to-date papers. But supplies seem to be a little haphazard at the moment. We have had our NAAFI rations of chocolates and sweets and cigarettes and even the monthly issue of spirits (whisky and gin and cordials).

Sincerely hope I have not worried you. I am feeling much better now, the fine weather and the comparative immunity from enemy activity have all helped to put me in a better frame of mind and body.

February 24th

It's another lovely sunny day, just a faint chillness in the breeze. However, I have not had the opportunity of enjoying the air as I have been asleep all the morning. It was a particularly difficult night duty last night, we were firing at intervals of every 3 minutes from half past one until quarter past five, so there was no opportunity of rest or even of writing letters. I had hoped to write you a long letter last night, but it was out of the question.

(Interval while I have my haircut, the first time since leaving home!) My beret feels three sizes too large now! My barber was one of my signallers, names Higham. He is rather a pleasant, staid man of about 38 I think. He is not much use as a signaller, but he has always been with us and is amiable and pleasant and willing and we haven't the heart to get rid of him. Now we are glad to keep him even if he only acts as Troop Barber.)

We haven't moved for two days now and we don't look like moving for a while. The progress is slow, but steady and sure, rather like Normandy fighting over again, except that we are not static, we are progressing somewhere each day. I believe the American 9th Army have now begun a push. That should help us, I think.

You ask what my thoughts are of the Crimea Conference. Thankyou for sending on the papers. I had not had an opportunity of studying all the details before. Am afraid one must reserve judgment of the Conference, there seems to have been very much decided that has not yet been disclosed. I certainly feel that the Polish question has been tackled in a practical manner, but it is certainly not the ideal manner and is, at its best, a compromise.

Yes, I have finished your biscuits and enjoyed them. If you could send a small fruit (i.e. currant) cake I should enjoy that, if it will not be too much trouble to you. Certainly our present diet leaves a lot to be desired.

There is not much more to report. The leave roster up to the end of August has now been drawn. John Bartlett goes in March, Dave Benson in April, John Wood in May and Ron Dorey in June. I can't expect any leave until August at the earliest, if the war has not been finished before then. The leave roster, of course, has cheesed off the men who are at the end of the list, especially as some of them are D-day men.

February 25th

I have had no letters for two days or so, so cannot answer any that you have written since the 19th Feb. I suppose, really, I am expecting too much from the A.P.O.

It has been fine again to-day with a cold S.W. wind. Just now as I write the wind is beginning to drop and the rain is just arriving. If only the weather would continue fine for some days at a time, we might have a chance to do something. However, a few days time may see quite a difference on this front. So we hope.

We had some bad luck this morning. One of our own shells exploded alongside the gun and wounded one of my Sergeants. My Sergeants seem to be particularly unlucky, and it certainly is unlucky to be hurt by one of your own shells considering all things. It is a very rare occurrence and can only be attributed to a faulty fuse or a damaged one—one damaged either in manufacture or in transit. Fortunately the wounds are not too serious but he may have a limp, as it damaged his leg somewhat.

I do seem to be unlucky in such things, either it is unlucky or it's bad supervision on my part. I don't know, but it's curious. Thank goodness such a thing happens about one in a million, because our ammunition is really very good.

I was about 50 yards away from the guns when the accident happened, so I was not in any danger. We got him away to the ambulance very quickly.

Am sorry to give you such a tale of woe when I should like to send you a cheerful letter.

I had to give a report to-day on one of my men who is possibly suspected of subversive activities as he subscribed to various Communist and Anarchist papers! Cannot give you any more details as the matter was very confidential. I was much amused and a little annoyed.

February 27th

We have just heard that some mail has at last arrived back at the Waggon Lines but it may not arrive at our end until late this evening, after I have finished this letter. Owing to the terrific amount of traffic on the roads, etc., the roads are allotted to various classes of priority users at certain times and the roads are so-called "frozen". They become "un-frozen" to night at 6 p.m. (we hope) when we should get our non-priority transport through.

We have been in this position a week or more and becoming quite attached to it, despite the mud and the absence of shelter. It would be much more pleasant if there weren't so many big guns near us, as it is, for me, almost impossible to sleep with these guns firing. They have a terrific blast which simply rocks my half-track each time the guns fire. My own guns are some distance in front of me and they do not disturb us, but these other guns are about ½ a mile behind me and are firing directly over our heads.

However, we would rather have that than German shells falling around us. Thank goodness for two days now we have had no shells near us, it has eased the strain somewhat. Our troops have made some appreciable progress recently and we are beginning to benefit from it. In a few days, too, we should begin to feel the effect of the American advance. The Americans are certainly finding things easier as the result of our attack causing the enemy to shift troops from the American front to ours. The news that the Americans are 15 miles from Cologne is very encouraging.

There has been a rumour running around the troops that a German P.O.W. stated that the war would end at 11 o' clock to-day! There is also a rumour supposed to come from German civilians that Ribbentrop and Von Papen are in London! To me that seems to be the last place they are likely to be, unless, as some one suggests, they are in Scotland Yard!

There are still a few civilians near here and it seems curious to see a German woman hanging out her washing in the yard of a farm which is crowded with vehicles of war of every description. I also saw to-day two children, a boy and a girl, carrying loaves of bread to the farm, walking along the roads quite unconcernedly.

February 28th

This morning it was so peaceful and quiet here that we could really hear two larks singing in their morning flight. Yesterday we had seen them but never heard them. This morning we also heard them and with the rising sun gilding the high clouds we really began to look cheerful and say to each other "Spring won't be long". One man, Rostron, my driver, even ventured to suggest that this country would probably be very pleasant in the Spring. If he'd said anything like that a few days ago he would have been murdered!

Which goes to show that we are all feeling less nervy, less irritable and that the general good news has made us a little more hopeful. But that certainly does not mean that we think the war will end soon. Just at this moment we are still firing away from the position we occupied over a week ago.

Probably the arrival of the mail yesterday evening helped to boost morale somewhat. Not a large delivery, but very welcome, nevertheless. I had two letters from you, posted on the 21st and 23rd February, which is really very good.

Yes, we could do with some more cocoa and milk if you could manage it, as Tydeman informs me we have run out almost. I suppose a tin of Bournvita or Ovaltine is out of the question?

March 3rd

Just a swift short note to let you know I am well and that everything is going well. We have been waiting about all day, expecting to move forward to meet up with the Americans. But the Americans have been moving so quickly that they have caught up with us. So we are still waiting, wondering what new plans are being formed. We have not been in action since mid-day yesterday and have managed quite a welcome rest. The weather, however, has been cold, with snow showers in between bright sunny periods. Makes waiting around seem much longer when it is cold.

We are just a little sore about the American advance. It is the Normandy situation all over again. The British attack and draw all the defences away from the Americans, so that when they attack they have little opposition against them. Considering that the Americans were planned to begin their attack a few days after ours began and were held up by floods so that we fought alone for two weeks or more, we have certainly had a raw deal. The papers, with possible reason, give a very unfair picture of the British part in this advance.

Especially when one remembers that our casualties have not been light.

I have not written since John Wood was killed. It happened two days ago, March 1st. He was unlucky enough to be standing up in his tank when a shell landed right on top of the tank. He was killed instantly. A chance in a thousand, I should think, for a shell to secure such a direct hit, especially as the tank was not under enemy observation. John Wood was Troop Commander of A Troop, and you may remember he was the officer with me in the woods at Nijmegen. He was very tall and strong, about 6ft. 3", and only 23 years old. His father is a Major-General in charge of disarmament problems I think. He was universally liked and I never heard anything unkind or bad said against him.

March 5th

Yesterday we saw the Prime Minister, Sir Alan Brooke (C.I.G.S.) and "Monty", drive past. We had been waiting on the roadside ever since 5.0 a.m. waiting orders to move. It had rained and snowed and hailed and we were cold and miserable. We were still waiting at 4.0 p.m. and the traffic was just as dense as ever. When suddenly a car passed with loudspeakers blaring "Mr Churchill will be passing through very shortly". Those of us who didn't hear the massage did not believe the news, but we stood alongside the roadway just in case.

And sure enough, about half an hour later, proceeded by a number of Military Police on motor-cycles, two large black saloon cars drove by, carrying the small Union Jack over the bonnet. In the leading one were the P.M. and Sir Alan Brooke. I had quite a good view of the P.M., a cigar in one hand, his hat in the other, moving it up and down rather mechanically. There was no cheering, everyone gave most correct military salutes, and Churchill looked just a little glum and serious. Probably he realised that none of us were in any mood for cheering, still weary after a hard battle, still remembering our casualties, still remembering that the war was by no means over and still just a little puzzled why we had to wait hours and hours on a roadside in the cold while the Americans were advancing all the time.

I did not see Monty myself, but I was told he was sitting next to the driver in the second saloon. There was rather an ironical cheer, half suppressed, as another saloon, boldly labelled "Press", quickly followed the P.M.'s and Monty's cars. After all, the Papers we had seen were still talking about the Second Army sitting inactive across the other side of the Maas around Venlo! Such things rankle with the men, vaguely labelled "British and Canadian" troops, who had fought one of the hardest battles of the whole campaign against a determined enemy and appalling weather conditions.

As we turned away from the roadside to continue our cold vigil we reflected that "Winston gets around a bit", "Travels more than any other bloke in the world", and that he must be feeling well satisfied with himself to have set foot on German soil once again. "That will make Hitler eat another carpet when he knows" said one wag. We learned later that a little further on the P.M. fired a super-heavy gun into the German lines on the other side of the Rhine.

We began to move at 5.30 p.m. having waited just over 12 hours. It took us exactly 11 hours to travel 11 miles. It was nearly 5.30 a.m. before we were settled in and we decided to wait for a cup of tea before going to bed. I have not been to bed yet, but hope to do so immediately after tea.

We are accommodated in a lovely farm quite untouched by the war and the civilians are still living here. We are all living in the barns on the straw, rather cold in this weather. I almost wish we had put up our tents, especially as we look like staying here a little longer than we thought at first. The bad weather and ground conditions seem to be holding up our advance much more effectively than the enemy.

Although we have linked up with the Americans it is doubtful whether we shall see many as the two Armies will continue to work separately.

March 10th

I am so sorry not to have written for a few days and hope you have not been unduly worried. I sent you a Field Card last night but I am not sure when it will reach you as I had to post it through another unit, an infantry unit. I have been at the O.P. (observation post) for two days and nights and had no opportunity to write.

I was suddenly whisked off at 10 in the morning to go and act as o.p. officer in Captain Wood's place. At first I was told we would only be in reserve but I soon learnt that I was to take part in a battle that afternoon. Fortunately it turned out to be quite a minor part in the battle, the troop I was sent to were forming a strong left flank to the main attack by another unit. It was my first real experience of what a battle really looks like and I was quite glad ours was a minor part.

I had a very good view of the whole battle for the whole of the two days and was glad I was a spectator and not a participator.

It looked much worse than it really was because I don't think there were many Germans about. I did see about 200 Prisoners on their way back behind our lines, but I never saw any Germans fighting. There was a lot of noise and banging, nearly all from our own guns and tanks. I was very confused all the time, but managed to keep out of harm's way.

Since the success of the attacks the end of the fighting in this area is very near, in fact I think it is over. This morning, from my C.P. I saw two huge explosions in the direction of the bridges. It was too misty to see what was happening. I hear that the B.B.C. correspondent thinks they were the bridges being blown, I imagined the explosions were ammunition dumps. I reported the explosions and I was wondering whether the B.B.C. got the information indirectly from me! Probably not, there were many other observers!

I am now back at the gun end as things have become very quiet now. I don't expect to have to take Capt. Wood's place again, we are getting a new officer very soon. We should be having a rest for a time now, so you need not worry about me for the next fortnight or so.

Your cake and the T.C.P. together with a letter and several papers were waiting for me when I returned to this end. Shall not have time to open the parcels, but shall do so later. You know how grateful I am for all these things.

March 11th

Well, we "ceased fire" this morning but we have not moved from our location. We are still in the middle of a clearing in a large wood. Quite pleasant when the sun shines but a little bleak at times. We are quite some distance from civilisation, and the only farms in our neighbourhood are all battle casualties, save one which we are using or intending to use as a possible Officers Mess (for dining, in the evenings only).

Your letter of the 8th arrived just this moment. It really is a good mail service at times. I have had a letter from the Mother of our Despatch Rider who was killed in January. Have also heard from my Sergeant who had the accident. His leg was badly damaged and is now 3" shorter than the other. I must write to him soon.

Incidentally, my deafness is quite cured. I thought I had told you earlier, and I am sorry if I had not mentioned it.

John Bartlett went on leave this morning. I hope he phones you, but he may forget because it was a few days ago that I gave him the number.

I promise to write a decent letter later. Even though we are "resting" the day seems to fly by.

March 12th

I've had a bath, which is one of the chief items of interest to-day. I now feel a new man and my clothes really seem to feel like clothing instead of sticky paper. We found a galvanised iron bath, just an ordinary washing bath, not a proper house-bath; Tydeman, that prize of batmen, did all the work in heating the water and rigging up a canvas screen in the woods. The weather is sufficiently mild to be able to bath out of doors, and I was not a bit cold. No insects to bite one, either, at this time of the year, but there was no sun to liven things up and let one lie about in the warm air. I have acquired a very large bath towel which covers me completely, and it is very useful for an open-air bath.

The other chief item of interest to me was eating your delicious cake. I had a cup of tea after the bath and your cake just came it an opportune moment. It was lovely to eat something you had made, and something home-made which had never been "canned" or preserved. My share, however, was but an eighth, as all my truck crew happened to be around at the time and I could not very well eat the cake without sharing it. I could quite easily have eaten the whole cake at one sitting, it was so delicious. And, do you know, it was still lovely and firm and not a bit crumpled or broken.

Last night, in the Mess, we had quite a "celebration meal", with soup, steak and chips and date pudding, tea, biscuits, butter and cheese, and some white wine. We sat talking until after 10 p.m. On our way back across the fields, under a very clear and starry sky, Sydney Kalbraier and I saw a V2 begin its amazing journey. It must have been many miles away as we heard no noise and despite its rapid flight we could follow it quite easily. At first it looked like a very bright planet, then it seemed to grow in size to a golden yellow ball and we at first thought it was a V1 approaching us. Then the light began to fade into a red star and we could see it was climbing almost vertically up through the stars as though it was really leaving the earth altogether and aiming for the heart of a star. We eventually lost sight of it, still climbing. It was rather awe-inspiring to reflect that by the time we had crossed the field and reached our tent, that V2 would have landed in England.

You will have gathered by now that we are still in the woods! there is a possibility that we shall move to morrow, probably to Nijmegen. We hope so, so that we can have a little touch of civilisation..

Will try to find some decent paper the next time I write. I have all my good paper packed in my suitcase which is on a vehicle loaded with ammunition. I have to shift about 2 tons of ammunition to get at the case and I don't want to do that unless I really cannot find any paper to write to you.

I may not find time to write to-morrow if we move, but you know you need not worry about me for quite some time now.

March 14th

Well, here I am again, and it is Nijmegen, as I said it probably would be. We moved to-day not yesterday, but I was too busy packing to write. We had to be up at 5.0 a.m. to-day in order to get there in good time.

It has been lovely Spring weather these last two days and in some ways we were very sorry to leave the woods and fields and countryside when the air is feeling so balmy and everything looking fresh again. But there are many advantages in living in a town again and we shall make as much use of the civilian life as we can.

This town is looking more civilised since I last saw it. There are more civilians than military to be seen on the streets, although all the traffic is military and the streets are decorated lavishly with military traffic signs of all shapes, sizes and colours.

Sydney Kalbraier and I are billeted on the second (and top) floor of a fairly large corner house on the main street. The house has been damaged a little by shellfire but otherwise is in good condition. The owners have only just returned, having been evacuees for 5 months. The house contains many articles from the Dutch East Indies and has an oriental atmosphere. Fortunately for us, Mme. Bantjes speaks English and her daughter (?18) speaks a little English. I have not seen M. Bantjes if there is one, but they have a young Dr., a friend, staying with them. A large Airedale dog, rather ferocious, completes the ménage, or as much of it as I have been introduced to (the dog introduced itself in no uncertain manner!)

The Officers Mess is in two large rooms above a public dance hall. Quite pleasant, but a little bare of furniture and home comforts.

Yesterday I received a lovely post from you, 3 letters and 3 parcels. The 3 parcels were very much appreciated, in fact the egg powder was very timely as we had it for our midday meal on the road! My truck broke down on the way here and we were late getting in.

March 16th

I did not have time to write to you yesterday. Immediately after lunch I was told to go and fetch the new Officer, Captain Anderson, who was coming to replace John Wood. His regiment was still in action so I had to go back, or rather forward, over the route we had just come to pick him up somewhere near the front. I was amazed to see how much tidier the countryside of the battle area was looking now that the drier weather has arrived and the battle ceased. But the roads are in shocking condition in places and the ruined towns look more ruined than ever now that they are almost empty of troops. More civilians seem to have appeared. Occasionally one passed a small group of civilians helping to repair the roads, but a sign on a board by the roadside said "Dutch workpeople". Amid all the traffic signs and warnings to drivers freely displayed on posts and tree trunks along the route I was a little startled to see a new notice, in English, "Jesus Cares".

When I finally met the new officer I was surprised to find that I had met him just over a week ago. He had been at our tactical H.Q. the day I went to the O.P., just before the end of the battle. He seems quite a pleasant person. Is a South African.

We did not get back to the Mess until after 6.0 p.m.

I had a short talk with the people in my billet last evening after the evening meal. One of Mme. Banjies's 3 sons had arrived for 48-hours leave. He and his brother are acting as interpreters in a Civil Affairs Detachment and he did most of the talking all the evening. He had been in prison in Germany once, his brother interpreter twice and his second brother was in hospital suffering from his illnesses contracted in prison. This son, John, who had spent one term in a German prison (I don't know for how long) had kept up his hobby of collecting emergency money and he showed me some of his very fine collection of emergency money of all kinds and sizes and from all parts of the world. Some of the Central European money was most peculiar and interesting, the notes were made of silk or cotton or some other fabric with the design and wording embroidered on in colourful threads.

The family spoke English for my benefit, but they all said they are finding it difficult not to speak English, they see and speak to so many soldiers and officials in the course of a day. They find Canadians difficult to understand and they don't like Americans!

We hear to-day that there is a possibility of moving to-morrow! Not to go into action, just to sit in a wood. Someone has made a colossal blunder over the accommodation and apparently we ought not to have come here. The C.O. is doing his best to get things altered but I don't think he can postpone the move later than Monday. All of which is most annoying and most unfair on the men who have not yet had an opportunity of enjoying the town. Nor have the Officers, come to that, but we never expect to. The B.C. and David Benson went to Brussels to-day. I could have gone in place of David, but they are only stopping one night and I did not fancy the journey to and from Brussels with the B.C. in a Jeep. I will wait my turn and hope to get a 48 hours in the special officers club in Brussels as soon as there is a vacancy.

I see that Sir James Grigg has made a long speech about the Army and made references to the superiority of our tanks. All of what he says is perfectly true, one cannot deny any statement, but the general impression he gives is not true. The fighting men know that the German tanks are superior to the British and American by reason of their superior armour. The German tanks can knock out our tanks at a much longer range than our tanks. Although our guns are superior to the German guns, we have to get much closer to the German tanks before we can be certain of knocking them out, because their armour is so thick. Certainly ours are faster, but that does not count much in an actual battle. The information they gave about the demobilisation did not amount to much. It has been rumoured in the Press, that the demob. will begin in May and that groups will be demobbed, groups 25–70 being liable to serve in the Japanese war. As I come in Group 28, this is not at all a pleasant prospect and I am hoping that rumour is wrong. It, the paper, suggested in effect that groups 26–70 would not be demobbed until after the close of the Japanese war. I hope that also is wrong.

4.30 p.m. Have just received your two letters 12 and 13, the latter dated 13 March, that is very good. When I referred to "our" casualties I meant the 2nd Army and not the Regt. John's was our only fatal casualty.

Thankyou for the cuttings from the Evening Standard. I was not worried for myself, it doesn't matter to me how much publicity we get, but it affects my men and then I get annoyed.

I shall probably be writing tomorrow from the depths of the forest once again.

Have to-day sent you my Greatcoat back. I have worn it so little and as the warm weather is coming, it seems too big an item to carry in my kit and it is getting spoiled. Sorry to give you an extra thing to store.

Am also enclosing the letter from my Sgt. who was injured.

March 17th

Just a short note, as I have little news to report. We did not move to-day, after all, for which we are duly grateful. Despite the fact that the town had a few single shells landing on it during the night we are still glad at having a week-end here. We suffered no casualties and only very minor damage. I slept through it and was surprised to hear about it in the morning.

Apart from having a hair-cut this morning, a very good one incidentally, I have seen little of the town as I am orderly officer to-day and cannot wander far from our area. Perhaps to-morrow I shall be able to have a look around, I might even manage to see a film.

By chance to-day I met one of the men who was with me in my Troop at OCTU. His name is Allen, a very young officer, just about 21, who is in a similar Regt. to this and has been near us all the time since D + 3. He is the first fellow cadet I have seen since leaving OCTU but we did not have much opportunity to exchange experiences. We hope to see each other across the Rhine!

To-day I received a letter from the wife of one of my men, asking why he hadn't written. She had not heard for 3 months. It is a shame. I will let you know what develops.

March 20th

Here we are once again in woodland surroundings. It is almost as though we were on one of those many outdoor exercises we did in England this time last year. The Spring sun shines through the clouds and the birds (a few) are singing, the trees (that are not burnt) are budding. We have our own tent or bivouac, I should say David, Sydney and I. We have Officers "lines" and an Officers Mess (a tent), vehicles are hidden in the foliage—and we go to bed early at night because there is nothing else to do!

We moved here yesterday afternoon so there was no time to write yesterday. On Sunday I had to send you a card as I went for a short walk around the town in the afternoon with Harry and in the early evening, just after tea I went to the Ensa cinema to see "Pin-up Girl". It was a proper cinema, not a makeshift Army one, so we could enjoy the film in comfort. The Technicolour helped to make it a good film although the story and acting was indifferent.

I returned to the Mess with the intention of writing a few lines but found all the officers out and the Battery's mail not censored. I had almost finished it all before the others returned—so had only time to send you a card. My censoring was very quick, in fact I read very few of the letters, there were too many. Apart from that one night's shelling we had no more shells on the town while we were there, so I hope you did not worry unduly.

I had a wasted morning, sitting on a Court of Enquiry into the circumstances in which my Sergeant Major's motor cycle was stolen from our vehicle park in the town. The Enquiry only established the fact that no one saw the cycle taken, something that we knew already! Another battery lost a motor-cycle and a truck, but the truck was eventually traced by the military police. The vehicles were probably taken by soldiers who wanted lifts back to their units. Canadians are very fond of doing that.

My Sergeant Major is starting his journey home on leave today. I am not asking him to phone you, because if he did, you might be worried at that time, also he could not tell you very much.

5.30 p.m. During the interval of time

a) Tydeman has sewn two buttons on my trousers,

b) I have been to a Conference

c) I have had tea, all of which has prevented me from writing,

d) I have received a letter from you, telling me all about your visit to the Museum with Daniel.

As regards leaves the new officer does come on the list. The order now is David, Ron and Roy Anderson. However, don't bank on me coming home on leave when we have finished our roster. There is no provision at the moment for people having leave every 6 months. We all hope the war will be over by then and that we shall be home for good before our second turn comes round.

I am afraid that mail will be very much disorganised for a little while after you receive this letter. We shan't hear from you and you may not hear from me for over a week, so be as patient as you can and don't worry, too much. It will not be just a question of not being able to write, but difficulties in getting the mail collected and delivered.

March 23rd

Just a few brief lines in a hurry to let you know I am quite well. We are in a farm now, with a good cellar and not a bit damaged. Pity we shan't stay very long. The weather is still very Springlike with clear blue skies all day and clear frosty moonlit nights. Everything is very peaceful and calm, almost too quiet.

Your letter 17 arrived yesterday. Yes, there are some letters missing between the 5th and 10th and I hope you have received them by now.

I will let you know when I want my summer clothes. At the moment the nights are still cold.

March 24th

Another fine, sunny and warm Spring day, but yesterday's peace has been shattered by man's inhumanity again. The peaceful afternoon led to the noisiest evening we have yet experienced and that is saying quite a lot. Fortunately for us we were causing all the noise and so far enemy retaliation has been non-existent.

We are still in the farm, from which I wrote yesterday, and hope we stay here some time. The news that there are now four or five bridgeheads over the Rhine including Gen. Patton's, is very encouraging news to every-one concerned and it has heartened us immensely. The considerable air activity we have witnessed must be having its effect and reducing our casualties.

Our Battery seems to be very unlucky with accidents. Harry's Troop, A Troop, had an unfortunate accident last evening with a shell and three men were killed. We shall never know the cause, but it all seems to point to another faulty shell. It is a downright disgrace if that is the cause, nothing undermines a man's confidence so much as to lose faith in his ammunition and weapons. I'm glad I was not a witness.

Sorry to end on a morbid note but the mail is going at any moment.

March 27th

A few swift lines in the hope that somewhen to-day the mail will be collected. It is really to let you know I am quite well and in good spirits (almost as common a phrase as "in the pink" I'm afraid!). I met up with Johnson (i.e. crossed the Rhine) yesterday and parted with him this morning. He was not so formidable a personality as I thought he would be.

Yesterday was quite a hectic day in many ways, having moved twice. We left our farm and moved into rather a hot spot, where German shells were falling occasionally. I sent you a field card yesterday, it was written and posted about 10 minutes after a German shell had landed 10 yards from my truck. I was in the truck at the time but was not at all shaken, not as on the last occasion. The truck suffered only scratches and no-one was hurt. We moved the truck immediately to a different spot and although a few more shells came over later they were not near enough to worry us unduly. However, just before it got dark we got permission to move to a less dangerous area and we did so "toute de suite". It meant digging in all over again and it was nearly 11 p.m. before we were finally settled down. However, it was worth it as we had peace and peace of mind for the rest of the night. We were up again at 4.30 a.m. so there was not much rest.

We are all pleased over the success of the Rhine crossings and the progress made by the American troops, but we should like to see some signs of the German Army disintegrating as SHAEF reports. On our front he is still as stubborn and hard to dislodge as ever.

The really fine weather has at last broken and the weather is now more like the March we know, cold winds and occasional showers (not very heavy, fortunately). Yesterday I saw some daffodils and I was on the point of picking you some violets when we had orders to move.

Your letter 20, dated 24th, arrived quite quickly yesterday. Thank you for the rubber. Will you also thank your mother for the loaf. It was a little stale, but it was so much nicer than the biscuits we were enduring then. It came in handy as one day we had to wait a long time for our food and Tydeman fried the bread with some bully beef and it made quite an appetising snack.

March 28th

We moved again yesterday afternoon before I had time to finish this letter. We are in another cellar, about the only inhabitable part of the building, it has suffered very badly from shelling. There are a few civilians here, an old man of 76 and his sister about 80, a few women of varying ages. They are all living in air raid shelters and dug-outs around the farm. This morning I went with some of them to their own farms in the neighbourhood which were occupied by our troops. I helped them to salvage some food from their ruins, one old woman wanted some shoes which she had left in a canvas sack. We could not find them, but found her some of her wooden clogs which pleased her. I did not think this came under the heading fraternisation, but it is difficult to draw the line. One cannot help assisting the aged and the infirm and the very young. Personally I feel much happier this morning for having helped them, it is such a relief from continual firing and destroying.

There is not much more I can tell you, things are quieter this morning, but progress on our front is still slow, but sure.

I meant to congratulate Robert on being appointed prospective candidate for Bournemouth. I can understand his excitement and I certainly wish him the best of luck. I can only feel, though, that he will have a very difficult time in that area, but I don't suppose Robert minds a hard fight. Have you any idea who is, or will be, his opponent. Are the Liberals putting up a candidate there? If so, our loyalties are going to be somewhat divided!

Yesterday I received the first parcel of cigarettes sent to me by the Church of Scotland (Gillingham). I think I shall distribute them among the Scots in my Troop.

March 30th. Good Friday

Please excuse the paper but it is all I can lay my hands on at the moment. And, I fear, I must now count my pen among the missing. Unless I write now, though, I doubt whether I shall be able to write again for several days, and when I do it will be a long way from here, I hope. Even now I doubt whether this letter will get posted to-day, in which case I may not be able to post it until our journey is done.

You will be confused because I said in my last letter I should be with the Guards Armoured Division at Munster. As it turns out it will be Enschede and Bremen and possibly further. Someone else got to Munster before we could get a start.

The news taken all round is remarkably good. We are still meeting with a certain amount of opposition but it is gradually weakening.

I have received your letter 21 and 22 telling me the most astonishing news that you have bought a house. Honestly that is the biggest shock I have had this battle, far more terrifying than a few shells! I certainly think you did the wisest thing.

What an awful worrying time you must have had making such terrific decisions when you were so worried about me. I wish I didn't worry you so much! Perhaps it won't be for much longer and then you can worry me for a change! It was very decent of Robert to let you know so quickly. I am dying to know what you thought of the house after you saw it last Monday. You must have had an awful rush getting up to London and back in the time. I'm afraid I do not know North London very well so cannot place the district in my mind.

Now I must really close and get some sleep. Please, don't worry. The worst is now over. I was dreading the Rhine crossing, but it went ever so much more easily than I anticipated. This next effort cannot be anywhere near as difficult and dangerous.

April 5th

At last I can write you a letter, but I'm afraid it will not be as good a letter as I should like to write. So much has happened to write about that I cannot possibly put it down in writing in one letter. It is like the advance from Normandy to Antwerp, with a little more fighting that is all and an absence of civilian greetings. The first part of our journey took us through Holland and the people there did greet us effusively, when they were sure the fighting had ceased and all the Germans gone. But it is a different story now that we are in Germany again and are met by cold empty houses and streets, and you are wondering where the snipers are. Fortunately up to now we have not met any snipers and there is no opposition from civilians that remain (as yet). In fact one town in which we were among the first to enter, the civilians were so scared that they gave us coffee on the spot and cooked our breakfast for us.

David went on leave on April 2nd, early morning, while we were at Enschede and I had to take his place. Since then I have had a most tiring but exciting time and have not been in a position to write other than one card (day before yesterday, I think). We crossed the border with the leading squadron of tanks about 5 p.m. that day. We were held up by demolitions in the deserted town just over the border and had an eery wait near some burning buildings.

Eventually about midnight we managed to get through the town and then began the wildest dash I have ever been on. The tanks raced through the darkness on the main road going at full speed in an attempt to reach Lingen and capture a bridge. Just as we started out, we learnt that the weakened bridges in the town had collapsed and no traffic could follow us, not even my guns! But we had to go on and trust to luck. Luck held, but the bridge was well guarded and was blown as our leading tank was about to dash across. I was quite some way behind by this time so was in no danger. So there we had to wait on the road for the rest of the night not daring to go to sleep for fear of an ambush. I was very busy the next day and we did not get much rest. I established myself in a church steeple and it was most tiring climbing up and down 200 feet of ladders amongst big rafters and through narrow holes, several times a day.

I stayed there all day on the 3rd and again on the 4th, working in the steeple from 6.30 to 20.30 hrs. each day. At night we slept, or tried to, in the room on the ground floor of a house near the church. We were rather surprised to find Jerry still had petrol to send over a few planes, but they are only a nuisance value and do not worry us.

This morning another officer, Roy Anderson, relieved me, and my tank crew and I are now back with the guns getting a well earned "rest". Don't know how long we shall be resting, at least 3 or 4 days, I hope.

April 8th

Just a short note to let you know everything still goes well with me and everything out here. Progress is a little slower than on other fronts, but we are progressing which is the main thing. It is not such an easy advance as it was at first thought it might be, chiefly because the German troops are making effective use of road blocks and demolitions. The actual fighting is very little, although it is confused. Opposition seems chiefly to come from A.A. gun crews taking their guns back from Holland and the Ruhr and Rhine areas, and a few self-propelled guns plus a few infantry. It is not really organised, so far as we can see, but it is undoubtedly slowing up our advance.

The weather keeps springlike and it is lovely in the sun to-day.

The 3 or 4 days rest that I spoke of in my last letter did not materialise as the same night we resumed the advance and I was attached to the leading squadron again. We did not get as far as we hoped, but we did succeed in capturing 4 of the 88 m.m. A.A. guns and pushed on some distance. We spent the night in the cellar of a farm, with one or two burning farms around us.

We advanced about the same distance yesterday, met some stiff opposition in one town, so we waited and organised a fairly large scale infantry attack. When the attack went in some two or 3 hours later, we entered the town without any opposition and without firing a single shot! Wish all attacks were equally as easy. Another farm building, very large and prosperous and quite undamaged and I had a feather bed to sleep on, using my own blankets.

To-day I returned to the Battery, my squadron having been given a rest. I wasn't sorry to leave my squadron area, as it was being shelled intermittently this morning.

However, the gun end is not exactly quiet but one is relieved of a certain amount of tension and stress. I am hoping that when my squadron is used again that another O.P. officer will do the job so that I really do get a rest. Anyway we are hoping for that to happen. Roy Anderson has been sent to them now, so perhaps he will go.

April 9th

It is a lovely Spring afternoon, blossom on the trees (some), birds singing, chickens clucking and everyone in shirt sleeves sitting around on the green grass. War seems far away except for the occasional bangs and the presence of tanks and all the weapons of war standing in the fields.

From which you will gather that I am still resting with the Battery and that Roy Anderson is doing my job as O.P. officer for awhile.

It has been a rest for me as I have managed to read quite a lot of a light novel "The Journey" by Robert Eton, a very English novel of the English countryside. It was included in the small parcel of paper backed books that I received yesterday from the Scotch Church, Gillingham.

April 11th

Another lovely Spring day in the sunshine. Another day of rest for me and my crew after a hard day of battle yesterday. In my last letter I anticipated 3 or 4 days rest, but had no sooner finished writing than I had orders to move. We seem to fight on alternate days, taking turn and turn about, with another Battle Group. So perhaps to-morrow we might be in action again, but we hope for a longer rest.

Yesterday's fighting was a very noisy affair as modern war goes, but our casualties were remarkably light, considering the number of casualties inflicted on the enemy (mainly prisoners). It was very pitiful to see how many prisoners were mere boys between the ages of 14 and 16, probably even younger. The Nazi Party are committing many crimes on their own country, but surely none so devastating to the whole well being of their future as to allow such young boys to fight. It makes our work even more sickening but one cannot afford to be less alert in treating them, they can fire a Spandau or a Panzerfaust just as easily as a grown up man and they are equally as dangerous. They give in more easily, however, because they have no real training or orders before being committed to fight. Even then they would not fight without the backing of the few German Paratroop and S.S. men who are left behind to lea— (sorry, a mortar bomb exploded suddenly, somewhere) lead them.

We are resting in a large farm whose buildings are only slightly damaged. The place is overrun with White Leghorn chickens and my crew are enjoying themselves collecting eggs. We have had a surfeit of eggs recently, two for each meal is by no means a luxury (some days) and we are, in consequence, finding less reason than ever to eat our Compo packs.

We spent most of the morning digging our tank out of a ditch where it had stuck last night. At least, we started to dig it when we were given some Prisoners to help us and they did the digging. We had to be winched out in the end by a recovery vehicle. At the first attempt the tree to which the shackle was fastened was uprooted completely from the ground without the tank moving an inch. So we had to find a stouter and tougher tree before we finally got the tank out.

This afternoon I have been sunbathing in the garden reading The Journey and even sleeping in the sun. Disturbed once or twice by the elderly farmer enquiring if he could go and find his horse, which ran away during yesterday's fighting. He came back and said it had been wounded and could he go into the next town to find the vet. I said yes, but doubted if he would find the vet, as the town had suffered considerably through shelling. Then I had a long complaint from an elderly lady of which I understood very little. She seemed to want permission to go back to her own home, yet when I told her she could go she almost cried and said something about not wanting to go as it was all burnt down, possibly. Anyway, she did go in the end.

We stumbled on another of the unseen tragedies of the war and we fled from it. No, nothing horrible to see. There are three Polish people, slave workers on this farm. There are two men, one a youth, and a woman of 30–40. They all showed us photos and said they wore photos of their relatives, brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers. We asked them where they came from in Poland, they said "Lublin".

It wasn't the name itself so much that startled me. It was the warmth and pleasure and eagerness in their eyes and voices when they pronounced it. It was their home, a town of which they were proud. It was so obvious they had not heard of its fate and what the name meant now in history, of the tragedy and suffering associated with its name.

And as I realised their ignorance, we ceased to ask them questions and talked of other things.

April 15th

At last we are having a few days rest, probably for about a week, I cannot tell. As a matter of fact we have not done any actual fighting for 2 or 3 days but we have been moving steadily forward. We are not in any particular place of note on the map, so can give you no hint of where we are. At least I can tell you it is peaceful and quiet here, the war has passed by without doing much damage in this area. There are very few houses here and we are living in tents in the fields, not far from the main road. So you ought not to worry about me for a whole week and a lot can happen in a week, the war may even be over by then! I do not know the latest news, but even yesterday's news was very good, with the Americans 13 miles from Berlin (according to a broadcast from Luxemburg that we picked up).

The war is virtually over except for isolated pockets of resistance. The enemy appears to have few weapons or transport and even less ammunition and fuel. He will, of course, make himself a nuisance as long as possible, but it can be only a matter of time before all resistance is overcome. There is a great deal of speculation concerning his ability and intention to withdraw to an Inner Redoubt in the Hartz and Black Forest and Czecho Slovak mountains and it is thought that he will succeed in establishing some sort of defence in that area. There will then be a long siege which will be a considerable annoyance but will not materially affect the future course of events. That is the possibility, whether we shall be involved in that siege I cannot say, but we are all hoping that we may, before long, do some more liberating—so much nicer than conquering.

To-day I managed a hot bath, the first since leaving Nijmegen for the Rhine crossing, about March 18th. It was not the best of baths. We had a long narrow galvanised iron bath, placed inside a rather ramshackle barn, with many holes for draughts in the walls and roof. Outside was a German field kitchen (mobile type) which we used to heat the water, the hot water being syphoned into the bath by means of a rubber tube. Quite effective and I managed quite an excellent bath.

Tydeman is having a very busy time to-day with my washing. The dusty roads of late have made everything filthy and we have not had a chance to wash any clothes for a month. We were badly in need of a rest, if only for our own personal maintenance and cleanliness.

David should be back from leave to morrow when I shall be relieved of the responsibilities of Troop Commander and need not go to the O.P. again.

Actually, despite the increased danger of O.P. work, it is a pleasanter life in many ways than gun end. When you are not fighting, you do get more opportunity to rest and the company of the officers is pleasanter. I have been with 9 or 10 officers, all of whom have been educated at Eton or Oxford or Cambridge, mainly the former, and they are certainly pleasant companions. They made me quite at home, even when they were talking of Eton. They have plenty of character, but are just a shade too cruel and callous for me ever to get friendly with them. Perhaps that comes from too much fighting.

April 16th

It has been a warm, sunny day to-day. Too warm, in fact, as we are not yet out of our winter clothing and we played football this afternoon. We beat A Tp. 4–0 in a very gentle and friendly game. We have just got orders to be ready to move at 5.30 a.m. to-morrow, which has rather shattered our ideas of a rest. This regiment certainly seems to do more work than any other unit in the whole outfit. I have no idea where we are going, but it can only be farther into Germany. I understand we shall not be going into action immediately we arrive at the other end of the journey) which is some consolation.

David has not yet returned from leave, but he is expected at any moment now. I hope he arrives soon as we have now only 2 officers in B Tp. again. We have had an officer under instruction, a Lt. Appleton, (called ' Appy by everybody). A very pleasant individual, a devout Catholic, teetotaller and non-smoker. He left this morning having been recalled for a reason not disclosed.

John Bartlett had an interview with our new C.O. (Lt.Col. Simmonds) to be informed that they were thinking of sending him to Burmah. John immediately created a row and I think he may manage to get away with it. He certainly does not wish to go, and we certainly can't afford to lose him now. There must be numerous officers still in England, who could be sent before sending officers still in an active unit.

I was interested to see in your letter that you want some elastic. I have been wondering quite a lot recently what your reaction to receiving German goods would be because I do have the opportunities to "acquire" a varied selection of articles, especially clothing and linen. Looting is of course strictly forbidden, but there are occasions when it is justifiable, e.g. when the house is in danger of being destroyed and the articles inside destroyed through bad weather, fire, or by demolitions to clear the route. In such circumstances I think it is justifiable to "loot" or salvage any valuable articles. They are difficult to carry, of course, and even more difficult to get home, but if I see any articles worth salvaging I will try to get them home. You can then do what you like with them.

At the moment I am wearing an excellent pair of corduroy trousers which I salvaged from a burning house in Menslage. They fit me perfectly and look very smart with a battledress jacket and brown shoes!

April 17th

Well, we did not move this morning as I mentioned yesterday that we might. The division moved but not us, and at the moment no one quite knows what is going on. No doubt the matter will soon be settled.

It has been a hot, close day, the afternoon devoted to inspections of our vehicles by the B.C., a most boring job.

David Benson returned to-day, much to my relief as it means I shall not have to do the O.P. job any more. Roy Anderson is the next Troop Commander to go on leave, but Harry Treble should take his place then. He did not get engaged while on leave and appears to have had a quiet time at the country home in Shropshire. He managed a day's extension of leave which he spent in London. To reach here he made a 14 hour nonstop road drive from the rail-head, which is a very wearying journey.

I did not comment on Roosevelt's death, we were on the move that day and I could not write. One of the Tank officers' batmen broke the news to us when he called us that Friday morning and we woke up with a start, it was such a sudden shock. He was such a human character, besides an eminent statesman, that everyone has sense of personal loss, a genial and colourful friend as well as a wise and sound judge on whom we relied for strength and guidance.

The effect on American policy in international affairs is the great problem now. If America can rise above itself and carry out Roosevelt's policy without him, then Roosevelt will not have died in vain.

(It is now pouring with rain outside and I. am glad I am inside four walls—in the Officers Mess Room. I hope Tydeman is looking after our tent!).

April 19th

Had only time to write you a card yesterday, as we moved quite a long way—at least long in comparison with some of our more recent moves. It was a very dusty journey as the weather still remains very dry and sunny. To-day there is quite a strong wind blowing from the N.W. and one can fancy one can smell the sea in the air. It is delightful in the country now, with the bright green corn and the many coloured trees and forests. One dare not wander into the woods or too far, however, for fear of running across mines or the stray enemy sniper.

Yesterday, soon after we arrived we spied someone in uniform walking across the fields towards us. Tydeman immediately reached for his rifle and we made the soldier put up his hands as he came towards us. He claimed he was Italian and I examined his papers. It was difficult to tell whether he was a friendly or unfriendly Italian so I made signs that he was to go with Tydeman to see an interpreter. The poor Italian looked at Tydeman and his rifle and thought he was going to be shot. He burst into tears and fell on his knees and was utterly miserable. We, of course, could not make him understand and it was not until I told Tydeman to sling his rifle over his shoulder that the Italian calmed down and consented to go with him. Even then he walked beside Tydeman and kept glancing fearfully at him, expecting to be shot any moment. However, the. interpreter discovered he was a farm worker and had not been in the armed forces and told him to go back to his farm and stay indoors. We have not seen him again. Certainly this question of foreign workers inside Germany is a very difficult one. Even if they do carry papers, one cannot trust the Germans not to have forged them. Many German soldiers are dressing themselves in labourer's clothes and trying to pass themselves off as foreign workers. There are not many British soldiers who can readily distinguish the difference between a German or a Pole or a Russian, etc., merely by looks, or voice, or even his speech.

There is not much else I can tell you, except that we are back in action. Also, we have just received fresh rations again, having been feeding on compo packs since before the Rhine crossing. So we had fresh bacon this morning. We have not managed too badly recently, however, with all the eggs we have eaten. Fresh vegetable are the scarcest items.

Oh yes—Sydney Kalbraier is now expecting to be sent to Burma. John Bartlett seems to have got out of it temporarily. Whether Sydney's name has been substituted or whether his was a separate nomination no one knows, probably the latter. He fully expects to go within the next fortnight!

I have had my photo taken twice to-day on captured (or looted) cameras. I don't know when if ever I shall see the snaps, one was taken by Sgt. Stow, the other by Harry Treble. I shall probably look very old and haggard, my hair is long again and it is more grey than at any previous time.

April 20th

We have moved again and it has just begun to rain. Otherwise things are pretty much the same as my last letter.

Am enclosing a sketch I made from your photo. It is not very flattering, but I can see a certain resemblance. If any faults are bad, blame the hour and the light.

April 21st

Excuse the pencil again, but ink is unobtainable at the moment. We possess some, but it is in my truck about a mile away. I am writing this in the officers Mess, the sitting room of the house attached to a Kindergarten school in a village near. The room, incidentally, contains a crude piece of statuary depicting two German soldiers standing on a dead soldier, with the inscription "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles". As soon as the B.C. saw it he had the pleasure of destroying it. It was very ugly, anyway, and ought to have been destroyed. However, I think the B.C.'s action was the direct result of just reading about the recent revelations of the concentration camps in Germany. Certainly the revelations are startling, accustomed as we all are to such details after 12 years of the regime. I applaud the decision to show the German people the insides of these camps. I only wish more of the German people could be conducted around the camps. The trouble is that they would probably not believe them, consider they were plants or tricks of propaganda devised by the Allied military, and probably think the Allies shot the prisoners when they captured the Camps. One is almost willing to believe anything evil of the Germans these days, or shall I say one becomes more contemptuous of their gullibility and docility to allow such horrors in their midst.

I understand that all the lights are going on in England to-morrow. How lovely, but I wish I could be there with you when it happens.

April 24th

Another lovely Spring day. I have been sitting out in the sun reading the first few chapters of The Warden, by Trollope (for want of something better to read.) Things have been quiet and easy for the last two days and (except for our move yesterday) we have not had anything to disturb us. We should be pretty busy within the next few days, though, unless the Jerries decide to give in. With all the bombing they are getting I really cannot understand how they carry on, or even why they carry on. I only hope Berlin will fall quickly, so that other great cities will take the lesson to heart and give in before too much bloodshed and destruction is caused.

We are on the outskirts of a large town and have requisitioned, or commandeered, a fairly large house. I had to turn out the civilians (one an ex-soldier who has apparently lost a leg fighting in the Russian campaigns). The people are either living in their air-raid shelters or with friends in neighbouring houses. The airraid shelters are very strongly built, all concrete, with two entrances and proper ventilation, built below the surface level and covered over with earth and turf. Not exactly comfortable but at least safe. I allow the women to come into the house to do their cooking and washing and looking after the children. One little girl was very much afraid of us when we arrived on the advance party and her granny could only pacify her and stop her tears by carrying her around and making her shake hands, with all of us, and say "Guten Tag!" After that she stopped crying but kept a little out of our way.

The ex-soldier would like to hear the German news from the B.B.C. on our radio set, but at the moment I have not been able to arrange it. I don't suppose they have heard any news for quite some time. The electricity system in Western Germany has been destroyed for some time now and there are very few wireless sets which work as the majority are all-mains sets. In fact we have not yet found a single set which works by means of batteries, so the Germans must have been deprived of their own news and programmes for quite a long time.

April 26th

I intended writing a letter to you this afternoon but was suddenly called upon to take a lorry into the big town ahead which had just been captured. Our B.C. had discovered a brewery where there were a number of crates of beer still intact. He had posted his driver to guard them while he called up the lorry over the wireless.

I had no idea when I set out what I was going to collect, and was a little surprised when I arrived to find the crates of beer labelled "Beck's Beer", as though someone had anticipated my arrival. However, by curious coincidence, the brewery was named "Beck's Brewery" and explained everything. There were lorries of several other units already at the brewery when I arrived and crates were disappearing quickly. We managed to collect 20 crates, but it was quite hard and tiring work. It is the first beer that my men have had since Christmas, so it was quite worth the effort.

The town itself was an absolute shambles. How the brewery survived I do not know, because the area all around was devastated. The roads themselves were in good repair, but not the buildings on either side. We saw a few civilians, some in a long queue carrying buckets waiting to get water from a pump on a street corner.

I was a bit dubious about going for such an errand as yesterday one of A Tp's signallers was killed on the road into the town by a stray shell. He was on a similar errand yesterday, only wine instead of beer, and it seemed such an unnecessary waste of life. He was a really pleasant person, well-liked and one of the oldest members (in service) in the Battery, so he was known by everybody. He was Ted Hall's signaller, so I know him quite well.

Yesterday was marred for another reason as one of the officers at our Regimental H.Q. was killed, with his driver, when their Jeep blew up on a mine. He was Michael Coultas, our Survey officer, who was G.P.O. of this Troop when I first joined the Regiment. He was very young, barely 22, not married.

I must answer your letters later, as I shall be busy this evening. We are going to produce a newspaper for the men, or rather a Wall Newspaper, and the Editorial Board are meeting this evening for the first time.

We did not move to-day, after all. Just as well, as it has rained all day.

April 29th

The war situation is so difficult and obscure at this moment that it is most difficult to write a coherent letter. This state of suspense waiting to know whether or not the war is over leaves one with a pent-up feeling of suppressed excitement and relief. I cannot settle down to think coherently, let alone write, so you must forgive a short note.

Certainly the end is in sight, but whether our particular unit have reached the end of their journey I do not know. We have not fired to-day and we may move up to-morrow and join the Guards Armoured Division. Whether they are going to fight we just don't know. We don't know where the enemy are, or even if there are any enemy.

Perhaps, who knows, another week and we shall be able to say for us the war is over. That is a popular rumour now, but if it is like all other rumours one must not believe it.

We moved yesterday, crossed Weber and are now Ecstever. We are occupying another farmhouse and are quite comfortable. There is only a woman and a daughter here (who sleep in the cellar!). On my arrival they presented me with 7 apples and 6 eggs. I accepted.

A nice point of conduct re fraternisation occurred this afternoon. The women has made two lovely large cream cakes (real cream from the cow's milk) and presented them to the soldiers while I was away. They had left a piece for me. I ate it without any hesitation and told the woman it was delicious (so it was). But strictly speaking, I should have refused it and told her not to do it again. That, I think, is carrying non-fraternisation too far. It was not offered as a bribe nor can it make any difference in our attitude to them. We shall still make them obey the same rules. They wanted to please us and were very gratified when we showed our pleasure for their cooking.

But it is a ticklish problem, you can imagine. You cannot snub friendliness without being boorish and seeming to be inhuman.

Yesterday evening a man, worn out, thin and haggard, walked into the farm and asked for food. He was a little surprised to find soldiers here. He had no papers, said he lost them in the bombing. Said he was walking to Berlin where his family were sent to escape the bombing of their own town. The woman gave him some food and he nearly made himself ill eating bread and butter and cheese and drinking creamed coffee, he looked so thin.

He was absolutely dumbfounded when I told him the Russians were in Berlin. I had to send him to the P.O.W. cage for investigation, we could not allow him to continue his walk through our lines.

A true story. One artillery regiment H.Q. was billeted in a house owned by 2 women (age not stated, youngish). They were a little difficult and to help induce them to obey, the soldiers told the women that Hitler was dead. They immediately asked to be shot saying that life was not worth living! It was decided that it would be fraternising to fulfil their request and they were left alone. The next morning they were found dead in bed, they had taken poison! Perhaps it was the best way.

Sorry to end on a gruesome note but I have run out of paper and I must change for our evening meal. The Mess is in the Burgomaster's house, quite a large and rich place, but little sleeping room.

May 2nd

I am sorry I did not write yesterday. I spent most of the day in bed after a rather tiring night duty. It rained heavily in showers and it was not tempting enough to get up, especially as we are camping out again. We have a particularly wet corner of a wood for our gun position and the ground squelches over your boots when you walk. A layer of straw in our tent protects us from the damp so you need not fear I shall get rheumatism. It has not rained to-day, so we are hoping the ground will get firmer, otherwise we may have difficulty in moving our vehicles,

Our hopes of the end of the war have been damped somewhat by going into action again with 51 HD. However, so far it has been easy going, but an enemy gun or two on our flank have been causing a few annoyances. Why, oh why, won't they give in and realise it is so hopeless to resist any further.

I am not ashamed to say that I cheered lustily when I heard last night that Hitler was dead. I was alone in an open field in front of my guns, checking that they were pointing in the right direction, when I heard through the quiet air my Sergeant's voice over our loudspeaker system say "Hitler is dead". I shouted so loudly that the echo rang back from the dark trees through the stillness as clear as my own voice. In the darkness in the trees I heard other men cheering, not for long, but just one short cheer of relief.

My Sergeant heard the news at 10.45 p.m. on the radio and we also heard the 11.0 news and a German station at 11.10 p.m. giving the statement by Admiral Dorlitz in English. All German radio stations were playing solemn organ music and I recognised Wagner's Gotterdammerung much in evidence.

We were disappointed to hear that Count Bernadotte had denied having met Himmler or brought back any proposals. from Himmler, but we took a little comfort from the thought that he did not deny having met any high ranking German official and went to bed hoping that perhaps he had met Admiral Dorlitz.

Our Battery newspaper is making progress, but the christening ceremony is causing difficulties, no-one can suggest an acceptable title.

May 3rd

I wrote the enclosed rhyme for the first issue of our Battery newspaper "The Fanfare" due to be published in 2 days' time.

Actually I meant to write to-day but we moved forward twice and have had quite a lot of work to do. The Germans on this front are beginning to give up, but there is none of that wholesale surrender we hear about from other fronts. In fact this afternoon the Luftwaffe put in an appearance and we saw a few jet planes, fortunately some distance away.

May 4th

We are sitting about 2 miles from a village, waiting for it to surrender. At least, waiting for the troops in it to surrender, because the villagers themselves want to surrender. The Burgomaster offered to surrender the village this morning and was told to persuade the troops to surrender by 13.00 hours or we should shell the place. At 12.30 a Major came out of the village and told our leading infantry that he wanted to arrange for the surrender of his Division. This, of course, was good news, but it was rather spoiled by 2 German guns some distance away shelling the village we are occupying. Fortunately no casualties have been caused to our unit, although I believe some of the infantry must have been hurt. The shelling has gone on intermittently all the afternoon and as we have orders not to fire while the conversations are taking place, it makes life just a little difficult. Especially when one hears the news from other fronts about the mass surrenders.

It must be very trying for you at home anxiously waiting for the news of the Cease Fire. It cannot come early enough for any of us. But I cannot think it can be long delayed now and sincerely hope to tell you the good news very soon.

We are still living out of doors, on the edge of another wood. Not quite such a damp and boggy one as the last. It has rained off and on, rather like a typical April instead of May. The nights now are very cold and I find it a little difficult to keep warm at night.

Our newspaper comes out for the first issue to-morrow. We have had quite a good response to our request for articles etc., and it should be quite a good edition.

May 5th. 6.0 p.m.

Take another look at the date and time. Yes, it is true, it is all over and I am still alive and well. I can hardly believe it myself sometimes, we have lived in suspense for so long. It seems too good to be true somehow that never again need we be afraid of an enemy shell whining its way in our direction and killing or maiming us for life. But now the nightmare really has passed ind the load eased from our minds.

For you, I know, the anxiety is not quite over until you receive this letter, but I am sure you must have felt a profound sense of relief yesterday when you heard the news.

I heard the first news when I was in our Battery Command Post. Harry Treble heard a B.B.C. announcement about 8.30 p.m. and told us about it over our telephone. Then we heard another officer passing the information over our own wireless. Then we went outside into the village street and saw other soldiers of other Regiments all looking very happy, some shouting "It's all over", "Have you heard?" "8. o' clock to-morrow", "Yes, official", and we knew it must be true. So we stood by our wireless sets at 9.0 p.m. and heard, it for ourselves. Even then we went to bed with the thought that perhaps the German gunners who have been annoying us all day have not heard the news and may send over a few shots during the night. Fortunately nothing did happen and I awoke exactly at 8.0 a.m. this morning and woke everyone else up to tell them "It's all over".

For our first day of "Peace" it has not been very pleasant; as it has rained in very heavy showers and the tracks leading to our wood have become quagmires of mud. And the wind is cold.

A farcical situation has developed on our part of the front. The bridge ahead of us over a canal has been blown previously by the Germans. This morning at 8.0 a.m. our R.E.s started to build a bridge over the canal but the Germans on the opposite bank won't let us. They say there is only a truce and not a surrender, so we cannot build a bridge while the truce lasts. Obviously the news has not reached everyone yet and we must sit and wait until by some means or another they are officially informed.

Our Battery newspaper "Fanfare" was published to-day and so far all the comments have been favourable. It is still amateurish but shows definite signs of promise and development The B.C. was particularly amused at a cartoon which was rather a dig at him. He took it in much better part than I expected him to.

The prospect for the future seems ever so much brighter now with the complete surrender of Denmark and Holland. It can only be a matter of time before the whole of the forces surrender, including Norway. In those circumstances the demobilisation can be speeded up considerably. Even then I cannot see myself being demobbed before Xmas, but I certainly should be able to get home on leave long before then.

May 6th

We are still about 10 miles East of Bremershaven and will probably move to-morrow. Where, I don't know, but it will be somewhere on this peninsula between the Weser and the Elbe.

It has been another wet day but not too miserable, and to-night the wind has dropped and the rain stopped. So perhaps to-morrow we should have a fine day for the walk in. We hope there will be no complications and we are hoping to find this area fairly well organised and under control.

May 8th. VE Day

Sorry to have to inflict this German paper on you, but it is the best I can lay my hands on at the moment. The pad is called "Romantik Schriveblok" so it is appropriate.

It is a perfectly lovely May day, so fitting for our first day of Peace. I sincerely hope you are experiencing an equally heavenly day. If only we were together it would be perfect. David, Harry and I had a lazy walk into the country after lunch (we had a half holiday) and it was pleasant to be able to lounge over a 5 bar gate, discuss the scenery and the animals and to forget that there had ever been a time of war.

We are now living in comparative ease in a pleasant village on the outskirts of the town of STADE. Stade is a few miles N.W. of Hamburg on the W. side of the Elbe. We have rejoined the Guards Armoured Division and shall probably remain with them for quite some time now. We joined them after the 48 hours truce was almost finished, just before they moved into the area occupied by the Germans (in the coastal area). We shall probably follow them into that area as soon as things get a little more organised and will probably have some policing task to do, such as the dock areas, or possibly the barrack areas or a P.O.W. camp or even a concentration camp, depending on what they find in that coastal area.

The Officers Mess is in a kindergarten, a very modern one with some pleasant modern furniture. Harry Treble, John Bartlett and I and Sydney K. share two rooms on the southern corner of the building where the sun shines all day. We have put all our beds, etc., into the larger room and have made the smaller into a lounge-cum-library-cum-writing room. As it boasts a piano, a bookcase, a writing bureau, 6 easy chairs, a mirror and washbowl, I think it has almost everything. Pity not one of us can play the piano.

The piano, incidentally, was removed this afternoon to a field in front of R.H.Q. The Regiment is holding a sing-song around a bonfire this evening at 8.0 p.m. and we shall possibly hear the King's broadcast at 9.0 p.m.

The village looks a prosperous one and seems to have been quite untouched by the war. There are numbers of refugees here from various parts and all the farms seem crowded. I took the least crowded house in my area and had to turn out two families. They are now sleeping in the barns in the rear of the house, having transferred all their furniture there. Even then I can only accommodate about 16 men and the remaining 30 to 40 men are accommodated in another large barn full of straw and farm implements.

Until we do get a definite job of policing to do, we are going to be hard put to keeping ourselves occupied here or keeping the men amused and out of mischief. We are entirely reliant on our own very meagre resources and the Education Schemes will take quite some time to get organised. We cannot do Maintenance all day.

I suppose to-day, being V.E. day, one ought to write long epics of prose to describe our feelings of elation and relief. But to-day in this lovely, warm sunshine, all I feel is a pleasant feeling of contentment at being able to enjoy a Spring day, leisurely and without fear, fear of death and fear of responsibility. Rather like the period at School after the examinations and before the results have been published when you can laze away a whole evening's sunshine without worrying about how much homework you ought to do.

Only we know the results will not be anything but more hard work and a host of new problems to solve, and so, for me, one cannot celebrate victory or go crazy, one just relaxes for a while before beginning the next difficult period, fortunately less dangerous.



May 9th

Another lovely Spring day, rather spoilt by having to do our usual Maintenance. Why on earth they cannot give us a complete holiday, I do not know. The men have all got hang-overs after last night's jubilations. Not that they drank much, because there was little to drink, but the rum punch they were given was quite potent and some got more than their fair share!

We had a huge bonfire in the open, but most people congregated around the piano (mounted on two upturned wardrobes!). The sing-song went off fairly well for a first effort. We had the King's speech relayed by loudspeaker and all the men kept very quiet to listen to it. Not exactly an impressive speech, but then I don't think anyone seriously wanted impressive speeches.

The sing-song resumed in a more hilarious fashion after the broadcast, with one or two solo items. The big hit of the evening, however, was the song sung by a group of Russians. About 8 or 9 slave workers were hanging near the bonfire on the fringe of the circle of soldiers and they were invited to give us a song. They were vociferously applauded as they mounted the "platform" and quite confidently sang a Russian song, one led, another beat time with his hands. They got a terrific applause at the end, but could not be persuaded to sing again (i.e. I don't think we could make them understand we wanted them to sing again.) The officers withdrew soon after this and I believe the men began to fight amongst themselves, at least one or two did, which rather spoilt the evening. Some of the men wanted to throw the piano on the bonfire and were only with difficulty persuaded to desist.

May 10th

Another lovely sunny Spring day, spoilt of course by Army routine and cleaning and maintenance. The C.O. is inspecting the area to-morrow, so we have to be at our best, in our smartest uniforms and clean vehicles. It comes hard after the slackness of war, but perhaps a good clean up is a good thing. As long as when it is over they will not insist on another clean-up every day.

The B.C. suddenly departed to England this morning on "course"! A complete wangle, of course, to get him home on leave out of his turn. The Army arranges a certain number of courses at various training establishments for Officers and N.C.O.s and then send officers and men who are well down on the leave list. In many ways the system has its advantages, but it is very annoying to the people who are not chosen. The B.C., who has spent exactly 2 days and 6 months over here, having been wounded and had over 4 months in England between the 2 days and the 6 months, now goes on leave to England before Roy Anderson who landed in June! However, such is the Army. The B.C. will probably be away a month all told, meanwhile David becomes B.C. and I carry on as Troop Commander.

Another "unfairness" of a different character affects the whole Regiment. A copy of the Daily Mail for May 7th or 8th has reached us which contains what purports to be the full list of all the Regiments which took part in the operations from D day until the surrender, and our Regiment was not among the mentioned! Naturally, all the men quickly heard about this and ill feeling has been caused. We are hoping the matter will be rectified very soon. I suppose it is vanity, really, which is offended, but the effects on morale are the same, whether it is vanity or pride or honour or whatever it is.

To-day a woman called at the Mess, almost crying, saying that while she was away from her home (in another village) some soldiers drew up in a car and took away a lot of her furniture and goods. I gather they were British soldiers. There was nothing I could do for her except direct her to the nearest Civil Affairs officer, or rather, the Mil. Govt. officer.

(Harry has just come in with the rumour of a possible move to-morrow. Just our luck. If we move before the C.O.'s inspection we shall have to do all this cleaning again. Hurry up with the demobbing, Bevin!).

May 10th. Later.

Another civilian story to tell you. This evening the Burgomaster called at our Mess with an elderly lady. I found them difficult to understand but gathered something about some Russians hitting the woman or somebody. I managed to get an interpreter, an Austrian from our workshop staff, who translated for me. Apparently the woman's husband had been beaten up by some Russian slave workers and they wanted the soldiers to protect them! The woman's farm was just on the outskirts of our village and none of our troops are living in the farm. We gathered from the Burgomaster that the Russians had now left but he did not know how badly the farmer was injured. I offered him medical aid but could not promise him any other support. I told the interpreter to tell the Burgomaster that they brought the Russians here and must accept the consequences. The Burgomaster agreed but wanted to know what we could do in future. I told him, through the interpreter, that the Military Govt. authorities would be taking control very soon and the Russians would then be sent home. In the meantime they must fend for themselves, he was to report all such events to us and we would treat each case on its merits. We could not promise him any protection, as we have no authority to interfere.

Later the farmer himself arrived and looked a rather alarming sight. His right eye was bloodshot, his left eye was almost closed by a very large bruise already black and blue, his face and lips were cut and bruised and he was bleeding from a cut on top of his head. He complained, too, of having been kicked over the heart.

I got our Medical Officer to come and see him and he pronounced that the man was not seriously injured, only superficial injuries, nothing internally broken, only bruised. He took him away in his Jeep to patch him up and send him back to his farm.

The interpreter (who incidentally was a Jew and had twice been in concentration camps) told me that the farmer (or the Burgomaster) said that the Russians claimed that the farmer had taken away the cross they had erected over the grave of one of their fellow Russian slaves. Whether this is true or not, no one can say.

One's own position in such cases is difficult. Much as I would like to prevent any bloodshed one cannot easily decide where justice lies. And the international complications of causing Russians to be arrested in such circumstances would be an extra difficulty. Certainly the war is not over yet.

May 13th

In the village of Oxstedt, about 5 miles S.W. of Cuxhaven.

A lot of interesting things have happened since I wrote the above. First, after I had finished, the electric light came on for the first time and we were able to get a gramophone working. Among the collection of records was our Tchaikovsky Waltz, which made a lovely finish to the evening.

I played it again in the morning before the power was cut off. We had the C.O.'s inspection in the morning. After all the work on the vehicles he could not find time to look at them but was pleased with what he did see.

Then that afternoon, Friday, I came on the advance party to this area. We passed through Cuxhaven and were pleasantly surprised to see British sailors in uniform walking the streets. We asked them if they were enjoying themselves and they called back "Are we Hell!" Certainly no one enjoys non-Fraternisation, especially when there are so many pretty girls and women walking around, and also when one sees German soldiers walking arm and arm with women.

But that won't be for long, as to morrow we begin to round up the German soldiers in this area and send them to camps. That is our job here for the next 3 weeks. Not a pleasant one and not an easy one.

The advance party were met in this village by a Naval Lieutenant, very smart and attractive in a well fitting uniform. He conducted us around the village, showed us where the German troops were living at present and made a provisional estimate of where we were going to put our own troops. That night we slept in the village school. Saturday morning we spent fruitlessly looking for suitable accommodation, trying to avoid disturbing the population. But at 12.0 noon, with the Regiment expected at 1.0 p.m., we finally had to grab the Burgomaster and take him with us to order the civilians out of the houses we wanted. The Burgomaster could not speak English and as I was the only officer in our Battery who had even a smattering of German I had to do all the talking. We would begin by saying that everyone had to be out of the house by 3.0 p.m. They could take with them what they wanted. Then began the flood of entreaties. We always finished up by confining them to a small self-contained part of the house, such as the top floor, or the kitchen and the barn. It was pathetic to see how they were invariably more willing to sleep in the barn rather than leave the building altogether. One couple even offered to sleep with the pigs, but we managed to allow them a little more room than that! In the end, by the time I left each house, they were so relieved that they had not too much disturbance that they began to pat me on the back, much to my embarrassment!

Fortunately the Regt. did not arrive until 4.0 p.m. and by that time we were all ready for them.

To-day has been another very hot and tiring day. As I am the only one who knows any German (Lord knows I can only speak in the present tense and my grammar is atrocious) I keep being called here and there to answer questions raised by civilians. It is interesting, but if it goes on for much longer I can see Sydney K. will have to run my Troop (David is acting B.C. now). However, things should be better organised within a few days and the civilians will know more about things.

I am busying myself with trying to write a history of the Battery since D-day, but it is being done too hurriedly and too briefly to make it more than a summary of events.

As you can well imagine, the routine and discipline and smartness of the Regt. is all being tightened up. We have full dress guard mountings now and I am orderly officer to-night so I shall have to close down soon.

The second issue of our paper Fanfare came out to-day and is even more interesting than the last, which is good.

Congratulations on the Women's Victory for Family Allowances!

May 16th. Friday

You must be very worried. I have not written to you since Monday. The truth is that Tuesday I spent all the evening writing the Battery history since D-day, promising myself to write to you on Wednesday. Then on Wednesday afternoon we had orders to move on Saturday, but the advanced party had to move immediately. We had over a 100 mile journey, arriving just before it got dark. The next day we moved another 20 miles finishing up at this village, Stedorf, which is about 30 miles S.E. of Bremen. We have to begin the work all over again of billeting and turning people out of farms, etc. The Regiment is expected to morrow evening and will probably arrive in the dark!

The we settled in at Oxstedt (our last village) we were told we could expect to stay there for 3 weeks or a month. In actual fact we remained about 6 days. We are told we may stay in Stedorf anything from a week to a month, which might mean anything. We do know this is not our final area for the occupation, so the sooner we do settle down, the better for everyone concerned.

We have a much larger area to patrol and search here than we had in the last place. But there are not so many (if any) German soldiers around and certainly no dumps of ammunition and equipment to guard as there were near Cuxhaven.

To show you how suddenly we left Oxstedt, I went into Cuxhaven on Wednesday morning to try and arrange a visit of my Troop to see over a U-boat and see the harbour, etc. (to keep the men interested). I discovered there were no U boats, only minesweepers, E-boats and two destroyers. The two destroyers had only berthed that morning and I was able to get to the quayside and watch the crews coming ashore, being disarmed and sent away in lorries to the P.O.W. camps. I paid a visit to the Naval Staff Officer, Intelligence, and obtained his permission to take my men over the ships. He said he would give me a pass to Inspect and search and I arranged to return at 5 p.m. to collect it.

When I returned I found the Adv. Party was at half an hour's notice to move. I thought I had just time to visit one of my soldiers, a Gunner Rylett, who was in hospital in Cuxhaven. However, the hospital was some miles from Cuxhaven and by the time I returned I found the adv. party waiting to go. So off we dashed.

I wish I could give you some idea about the future, but it is so obscure. You will probably have heard that age groups 27 and over are liable for Burma. I am hoping that this Regiment will not go as a Unit, but even that is so uncertain. There are a number of courses going spare in England, but if you are away from your unit for more than 3 weeks you are posted away possibly to Burma. In any case we are short of Officers as yet and we cannot spare officers for courses (so we are told!) There is also a strong rumour (a) that we shall have a victory parade in Brussels in the near future (b) there will be leave every 3 months for the Army of occupation. But everything is just rumour.

May 20th

Our censorship has been definitely abolished, so I can write more freely and you can destroy all our lists.

Sydney Kalbraier left us this morning on his way to Burma. Quite suddenly, as he only heard last night that he was to go to-day. So I am now on my own in the Troop and our Mess is becoming smaller each day. Roy Anderson went on leave on Friday, so there are now only 7 of us.

Our second-in-command, Major Gordon Finlayson, is leaving the Regiment to-morrow also bound for India, and Dave Benson has volunteered to go with his old Regt. So it looks as though the Regt. is slowly breaking up. Perhaps in a way that is best from my purely selfish point of view. I'd rather that we were used as a re-inforcing unit instead of being sent out to Burma as a complete unit. However, our fate is not in my hands.

I don't know what to do, whether to stay put and look after my men or endeavour to get into some such job as the Military Govt. staff. I am afraid that if I tried the latter I might be expected to stay in the Army beyond my Demobilisation time. If I stay, I may be drafted to a unit going to Burma. However, there is the possibility that my present unit may be told to stay in Europe for the occupation (as Infantry troops). For the time being anyway, I am not doing anything, as I do not know what the future really holds.

6.15 p.m. So much for my afternoon's letter writing. Had sudden orders to go and investigate the new area allotted to the Battery and report the locating of all troops. Fortunately there were few troops in the area and we did the 50 mile round trip in just over two hours having passed through 6 or 7 pretty little villages close to the banks of the R. Aller. Why Germans ever wanted to leave this beautiful country or had the audacity to claim Lebensraum when living in such a wide open area as Germany, history alone can explain. Certainly it seems large enough to contain all and more of its own population and one can only assume the Germans are selfish and greedy (or at least their rulers are, or were).

I must have given you a false impression about the Battery history. The one I compiled was only a 2000 word one and was intended for publication in the Hertfordshire Advertiser and another St. Albans paper.

May 22nd

This would have been a longer letter to night, had I not had to perform an unpleasant duty. I took a party of men house-searching this afternoon in this village, then when we returned the lady of the last house visited came and made a scene, protesting that my soldiers had taken 2 pairs of silk stocking and an alarm clock.

So I had to go and question each man and then search their kits as they all denied having taken anything. I found nothing, but it is a most unpleasant business. The Germans are quite capable of making up these false claims just in order to make things difficult for us. It is difficult to prove either way, because no one knows whether or not the civilians ever possessed the articles, or even have stolen them from each other. I suppose the only way out of the difficulty is to make all the soldiers turn out their pockets after the search has been completed. It ought not to be necessary but it would at least safeguard the soldiers and show up the Germans immediately.

We now look like being here definitely for a month and we are being asked to help with the Military Government work as the Mil. Govt. Det. is far too small to deal with all the problems of this large area. I volunteered to help but am not being allowed to at the moment as we are short of officers ourselves.

Certainly the Civil affairs of Germany are going to be one big headache, especially with all these Displaced persons around. To-day we had to send off two of our guns and a tank and a number of men to quell a disturbance about 15 miles away. It turned out that about 10 D.P.s had raided a farm and killed a pig and then gone away. By the time our men arrived the trouble was all over and the D.P.s had disappeared. The D.P.s have no guards on their camps and are quite free to move around during the day until curfew.

May 23rd

After all I did not finish this letter. I had to go to a meeting concerning Fanfare. We "elected" the Editorial Staff in a more "democratic" manner and got quite a few new ideas about the make-up. The last issue was rather a difficult one as it contained a few grumbles by the men, mainly anonymous, but they were tactfully handled and have helped to give the Fanfare quite a reputation amongst the men.

To-day we have been carrying on our house-to-house search. It is a wearisome business to me, every house takes about half an hour to an hour. Everything is locked up and there are many, many packing cases and cupboards and suitcases of clothing and valuable articles belonging to relatives and friends in Bremen and Hamburg which have been sent here for safe storage. When we can get the keys we have to open them and you can imagine what a trouble it is to unpack all these articles. One must be thorough otherwise we shall become a laughing stock.

However, all that we had for our pains were a few Nazi symbols, a few Nazi books, 2 old swords or daggers. No firearms or ammunition.

May 24th

I have just had a bath and am feeling clean and refreshed. Some of these farm buildings are dirty and dusty and cobwebby, so it is good to get into clean clothing in the evening.

We searched another 22 groups of farm buildings and of course found nothing. Towards the end of the day our searches tend to become more perfunctory as one gets tired of opening and shutting drawers and cupboards and chests and suitcases, especially when all the latter are packed tight with all manner of miscellaneous items of clothing and household goods of refugees.

The barns and sheds and outbuildings are equally difficult to search, because they are usually full of farm implements and vehicles and contain huge piles of firewood and kindling materials, as well as animals and feeding stuffs.

May 25th

We had friends from our neighbouring battery, 342, to supper and I did not have time to finish this letter before they came. The evening was mainly spent in talking of our Burma prospects and singing rather low songs. So it was not a pleasant evening. The Burma prospects are very gloomy and the general opinion last night was that this Regimens as a whole would be definitely sent to Burma. If so, the outlook is glum. For the present they have sealed the Regiment and are not permitting transfers to other Artillery Regiments. Also, our acting C.O. said that he had been told quite definitely by the "higher-ups" that all officers of group 27 and over would be sent to Burma.

I have decided to apply for the Mil. Govt. job, hoping that if the Regt. does not go to Burma I could always cancel my application.

Will you please thank Carol for her welcome letter. Tell her my German will never be first class, the Germans do all the talking and I just guess what they say and say Ja or Nein, varying the emphasis and the number of times I repeat it! It may be intelligent guessing but I am not speaking much German.

She wants to know if life is returning to the shattered places. It is not easy to say, as we are now living in an area that has suffered little damage. Certainly here life is fairly normal, although the village school is closed, there are no shops and there is no transport. When we passed through Bremen and Bremershaven on our way here, they both looked cities of the dead, indescribably ruined.

We are now having difficulties with this week's issue of Fanfare. This issue has a political flavour, in particular an article by one of my gunners on the "Fascists of England" (the gunner is an ardent Communist). Unfortunately I did not see the articles before they were typed and presented to the B.C. (David Benson) for approval. David said the Fascist (or rather anti-Fascist) article was to come out and now the editor wants to resign!

In fact, I think he will. He very earnestly believes in freedom of speech and writing and does not want to be editor of a paper that is being censored. My sympathies are entirely with him, but at the same time I don't think we have anyone else in the Battery capable of editing the paper. So what! Another puzzle!

May 26th

There is the possibility of coming home on leave within a month. We know definitely now that this Regiment is going to the Far East and that all officers and men of groups 27 and over will go. Which would include me if my application for the Military Govt. job does not come off.

I understand that if we go we shall fly out, taking about 3 or 4 days over the journey and that we should be initially sent to Reception camps in India.

I cannot conceal my disappointment as I did hope that this Regiment had done quite enough work for two campaigns. Especially as I believe that other Regiments, who did only half our work, are remaining behind in Europe to do policing. But I suppose "ours not to reason why."!

Yes, I think I shall be entitled to the 1939–45 Star, the France & Germany Star, and even possibly the Defence Medal, although I am not sure of the latter.

This Saturday is spoiled for me as the case of Gunner Blair, who took a pair of silk stockings while searching a house yesterday, has to come before the C.O. at 18.30 hours. The C.O. has been away all day and could not deal with the case earlier. As I am the chief witness, I have to be present. The man will most certainly be remanded for a Court Martial which means that I shall have all the fuss over again in about 3 weeks time.

May 27th

A rather stormy Sunday afternoon, which has now developed into a pleasant sunny evening. I intend to go a walk after supper, but I expect I shall be too lazy. Our evening meals seem to be very heavy these days! We should be having chicken to-night. Our batman/cook asked the owners of this farm for a chicken and they gave him one! We disapproved, but I don't think anyone is refusing the chicken!

I have been to another meeting of the Fanfare editorial board. We now have a new editor, a Sergeant Stackwood. Did I tell you that the original editor, a Bombardier Rigg, resigned on Friday evening, because David censored an article? I respect the man's principles, but still think he is wrong. The new editor volunteered for the job, which is by far the most satisfactory way of getting a new editor. He certainly seems to have a better grasp of what he can and cannot do in the Army and a more "realistic" way of looking at it.

To-morrow it is the turn of this Battery to provide Guards for the Russian refugee camp nearby. I only hope we do not get any trouble from them. We are also beginning our painting programme to-morrow in readiness for an inspection by the Guards Armoured Division Commander. It will probably take the place of our "victory parade", at least as far as we are concerned. The parade is on May 31st or June 1st (inspection, I mean) so we have not much time.

May 28th

We have begun painting for the G.O.C.'s inspection of the Regiment which takes place on Thursday afternoon. To-morrow we have to attend a lecture by the G.O.C. in Verden.

The morning was mainly spent in giving evidence and taking evidence regarding the stealing of the silk stockings. The woman had to be produced this morning, with the stockings as evidence. Now that the summary of evidence has been taken, the evidence is submitted to the Brigadier, who will order the Court-Martial to assemble. This stage will probably take at least a fortnight as there are quite a number of Courts Martial outstanding within the division, one or two for rape (which takes a long time at a trial).

Yesterday morning two Dutch girls presented themselves at our Battery Office and offered to work for the Officers Mess! David was not in at the time, and Harry Treble told them, through the interpreter, that they were to return at 9.0 a.m. and come in their best clothes and put on some make-up! Well, surprisingly enough, they did turn up, looking very smart in trousers and jackets with 2nd Army signs sown on the sleeves! David had to tell them (rather reluctantly) that we couldn't pay them. They said they didn't want any money. David tried again and said we couldn't feed them and they said that didn't matter, they could eat at the camp. Even more reluctantly David said "Well, really, we have nowhere for you to sleep" and that didn't deter them, because they could also sleep at their camp. In the end David had to admit that we could not employ them under Army Regulations!

David and I went for a country stroll last evening before going to bed. It was a pleasant evening, but muddy underfoot in the lanes. David is in two minds about resigning his Regular Commission as his age-group is 26. Were he not a regular he would not be bound for Burma.

May 29th

I have just returned from a lovely swim. Or rather two swims, because there was a thunderstorm on the way back and I got very wet sitting in the front seat of the vehicle.

About half an hour's run from here is quite a pleasant small lake called "Hamelsee" which has a sandy beach and floor and has been provided with a diving stage. There are not changing rooms, so I undressed in the 15 cwt. truck. The approaching storm cut short my enjoyment however and very quickly the roads back were swimming in water, so heavy was the deluge. It did not last long fortunately and the storm has passed over.

This morning all the officers and some of the men went to a lecture from Gen. Horrocks. This was equally as good a performance as the previous lecture I heard when we were at Reek, near Nijmegen, last November.

He has the happy knack of a public speaker of making everybody feel his friend and equal and has a human personal touch of understanding humour. It is his considered opinion that the turning point in the war was the German offensive in the Ardennes which he considers shortened the war by some many months. It used up all the available mobile reserves and supplies leaving them nothing to combat the big Russian winter offensive or the British Rhine offensive. Incidentally the American losses in that offensive were over 100,000, very high indeed. Gen. Horrocks said that the Ardennes offensive was one of Hitler's greatest mistakes. "We can thank Hitler for being where we are to-day" he said, and did not realise until we laughed what an ambiguous and obvious statement he had made.

His talk, or review of the campaigns, was mainly for the benefit of the Guards Armoured Division and did not give us much information. One or two individual tales of heroism were startlingly full of courage that one almost felt they were impossible.

He was even more interesting and amusing when he came to deal with some of the problems and plans of the present and future. He says he now finds himself the governor of a slice of Germany that is larger than England! A very startling thought when one realises that these Generals, for so long concentrating on the details of warfare, are quite unprepared and, I think, quite unsuited, to govern adequately. He stressed again the necessities for non-fraternisation and realised the difficulties in this "hot weather when so many summer frocks are in evidence!"

In this area governed by 30 Corps, there are 900,000 displaced persons, including P.O.W.s. The difficulties of removing them are shown by the troubles they have to get the Russians away. There is an arrangement called the "Leipzig Agreement", whereby the Russian authorities at Leipzig have agreed to accept 6,000 D.P.s a day. But—the arrangements at Leipzig bridge are under the control of a woman Russian Sergeant who seems to work only if she likes and approves of the English officer she has to deal with. If she doesn't like the officer who brings the D.P.s none are allowed to cross that day! (At least, so says Gen. Horrocks).

The Americans however, found an effective way. The American officer saw his opposite number on the Russian side and said "How many D.P.s for a bottle of whisky?" and the Russians said 10,000! So, each day 10,000 D.P.s and a bottle of whisky changed over! Gen. Horrocks said the practice had now ceased, possibly because the supply of whisky was running out.

He said goodbye to the Division who are leaving 30 Corps and going to another Corps while they remain in Germany. We (that is this Regiment) are remaining with 30 Corps for the time being. We have no further details of our future.

Incidentally, the two Dutch girls, very persistent, turned up again to-day, and made another plea for work. So David is employing them as tailoresses (on trial) to alter the battledresses, etc. (we are allowed to spend a little on tailoring). So we must see how things develop. They are not very attractive.

We have guests this evening, who have just arrived, so I must close down. We are eating venison. Harry Treble shot a deer last night.

May 30th

Well, our guests stayed until midnight last night, and although I went to bed at 10.0 I did not go to sleep. So I wrote a long account of the Corps Commander's lecture for "Fanfare". The venison was excellent, my first taste ever. I'm afraid I must confess that I was with Harry when he shot the deer. It died instantly with the first shot (it was less than 50 yards away). I think war must have made me callous a bit. I'm sure a year ago I should have been nearly sick if I had seen a dead deer shot in front of me. But since then I have seen far worse sights. I have seen the wreck of a man after a shell has gone off in his hands and I wasn't even sick so perhaps I may be forgiven if I am unmoved at a dead animal killed without pain. But I hope, sincerely, that the time will come when such sights will move me again.

I had a pleasant surprise this morning on parade when I saw two of my old troop who had been wounded, on parade. L/Sgt. Smith who was wounded at Jurgues and Bdr. Bond who also was wounded in Normandy, have returned. They both look very well and are both glad to get back.

We have just heard that our vehicles are not to be inspected to-morrow. After all our painting and varnishing and scrubbing. They do try and make things difficult for the Junior officers.

And we have to be on parade at 13.00 hours to be inspected at 14.30 hours! I hope it rains and rains and rains.

May 31st

Thank goodness that inspection is now over, but I have never been so ashamed before of my senior officers. The General was an hour late in arriving which did not create a very good impression. It is bad enough to get the Regiment all formed up but to have to do it 3 times in one afternoon is the limit. Especially as we had spent nearly an hour and a half rehearsing in the morning!

But the thing that made me really ashamed was the General's speech. He not only showed complete ignorance of our Regiment's history while working with his Division, but his excessive mannerisms of speech were not the style to suit our Regiment. He talked about the "great times" we had had together. He should have known that soldiers do not call battles and wars "great times". I'm afraid I cannot give you any impression of how he talked down to the men, betraying his ignorance and insincerity at the same time. When he almost forgot that we were going to the Far East that was almost the last straw but he had no conception of how many men were going to be demobbed and how depleted the Regiment will be. It would have been far better if he had not spoken at all, and I mentally squirmed all through a most uncomfortable 10 minutes. The most insincere 3 "hearty" cheers that I have ever heard ended his speech.

David has forbidden any reference to the G.O.C.'s speech in Fanfare, and it is perhaps as well. I am very, very glad I have not got to censor any letters now!

The only redeeming feature of the parade was that it was a lovely warm day with a cool breeze blowing and many nimbus clouds in the sky. The parade ground was a lovely open field on the banks of the R. Weser, a very pleasant setting. We could at least listen to the larks and watch the clouds and occasionally an aeroplane, but it was very tiring standing to attention for such a long time. He shook hands in a most dandified fashion with all the officers. The Guards Armoured Division has never been high in the estimation of our men. Now it has sunk to rock bottom. The generals do not help the Junior officers. We are going to find things very much more difficult now, the men will develop a bad spirit for quite a long time.

June 1st

I had to visit the guards at the Russian camp and the Chemical Factory, so did not have time to finish this letter last night. To-day has not been very busy and we have spent most of the day preparing our sports ground. We are hoping to arrange a Battery Sports meeting to-morrow.

David has just produced some photos he took recently with a captured German camera. I am enclosing his photo of myself. There are one or two other of myself and some of the other officers. I will send you one everyday so as to keep the surprise and interest and to avoid losing them all in one envelope.

There is a lovely vase of roses on this writing table and they smell heavenly. They are from the garden, picked by the farmer's wife!

I have a meeting of my Troop to address. I want to talk to them about Welfare and if possible get them to elect a Welfare Committee. I don't know whether that is allowed or not, but I am going to give it a trial. It might produce results.

Did I tell you that the Corps Commander is having armlets made to tell us which girls we can smile at? Not quite that, but there will be a few girls, mainly foreign workers, who will assist in running canteens, cinemas, recreation rooms, etc. These workers for the Army will be given a recognition brassard with the Corps sign on. It may, of course, be copied by the Germans. It will be interesting to see what the developments are.

German farm workers are now being discharged from P.O.W. camps, so we should see an increase in men in this area soon, if there are many of them still alive.

I had a swim in the Weser to-day.

Sidney Beck, June 1945

June 2nd

It has been a lovely, warm sunny day and ideal for our Battery Sports Meeting. We had the Sports this morning and they proved highly entertaining and interesting, despite our misgivings. I tied for fourth place in the 220 yards and then did not take part in any more events, much too exhausted! Anyway, we had many entrants for each race and we did not want to run too many heats. A Tp. walked off with the competition, scoring 28 points. B Tp. scored 14 and H.Q. troop 12.

I think my troop would have won the tug-of-war but they had to pull both HQ and A Tp. whereas A Tp. had only to pull once. We only just lost the relay race by an inch, could not have been a closer finish. Altogether a successful sports meeting and we shall probably try another some time later. There will be a Regimental one in about 3 weeks time which will give something to train for.

This afternoon David, Harry and I went in David's Jeep to the lake and had a very pleasant swim. The water was deliciously warm and there was a small canvas boat to paddle around in. It was an assault boat brought along by a party of R.E.s who were using the lake. Some of my Troop were there learning to swim and we had quite a jolly time. There were no Germans there, although on one bank were sitting a woman and her children, quite apart from all the troops.

David took more photos of Harry and me. We shall soon be the most photographed men of the Troop! I will try and get a film for you as soon as I can get into Verden, but they are not easy to get. The Americans seem to have cornered the market.

The C.O. has been tightening up on fraternisation, having been rather shaken to find we are employing these two Dutch girls. He says that he has made enquiries and considers that all Dutch girls in this area are or have been collaborators and that no Dutch women were ever forced to come to Germany. So David is going to tell them to-morrow that they cannot work here any more. I don't think they were being very successful with their tailoring in any case.

June 4th

Yesterday morning there was a football match between the Gunners and the N.C.O.s. At the last moment I was pressed into playing for the Gunners to make up the team. It was a boiling hot morning and we played 45 mins. each way. Our side won 2–1 and the game was quite good, but I was very hot and tired towards the end, especially after the sports of Saturday.

Then, in the afternoon, we decided to have an officers picnic at the lake. So David, Ron, Frank Lowther and I went off in the Jeep and had a very pleasant afternoon beside the lake. We managed to find a more select part of the lakeside as the usual spot was crowded with soldiers and German women and children. Somehow or other the soldiers managed to keep apart from the Germans and the amount of fraternisation was very small. There was ample opportunity really, with the lakeside surrounded by woods and pathways. Probably more went on in the woods than one could see!

Anyway, we four lazed away in the burning hot sun, watched two geese with their 17 goslings swimming around and walking around the fields, had a swim in the lake to get cool, ate egg & cheese sandwiches and drank coffee from a flask and generally lazed the afternoon and evening away.

Roy Anderson was in the Mess when we returned, having just arrived from leave. He seems to have had a gay but expensive time in London. He can afford to, being a wealthy South African from Johannesburg. He was quite relieved and pleased to get back to us, though, said it was like coming back home.

Major Loveday has written to say that he will be coming back, starting on June 11th, so we have not got much longer to enjoy the ease and freedom of David as B.C. or the use of the Jeep.

My Troop Welfare Committee held its first meeting this afternoon and showed quite a lot of enthusiasm. So perhaps we shall get some helpful suggestions. At least I have their co-operation.

We are badly in need of some Table Tennis Balls, so if you could spot any in a shop, or know where you can buy some, will you please buy them. Also, anything in the indoor games line. Also, can you please send me any literature connected with the Election. I am arranging for an "election room" where the members of the Battery can go and read all the latest information.

The C.O. is coming to dinner to-night so we have to be on our best behaviour. Perhaps we shall get some more information out of him, but there is little news or even rumours these days.

Fanfare this week was a little late and a little heavy, possibly the hot weather has made the "light" stuff difficult to write. I had a report on the Corps Commander's lecture and a diary of this week last year.

June 6th

A year ago at this time I could not write a letter. I had then been on land for two hours and our guns were in action on the Mont Fleury enemy battery position, with my Troop Command post in a huge bomb crater. The sun was shining more fiercely than it is now and behind us we could see the beaches crowded with men and vehicles and the blue and white waters of the Channel dotted with ships as far as the eye could see. Certainly there was no time to write letters.

This morning I am in a comfortable room with all the modern conveniences of comfortable furniture, a wireless and electric light. To-day is a holiday for everybody except the essential guards, no parades of any description and I shan't see my men all day. Unfortunately the day is cool and overcast and we cannot enjoy our open air picnics that we were planning. However, we are not grumbling, it is nice to feel free. I don't know what the men will do, we did not have time to arrange any programme. They can go into Verden and go swimming and play cricket if they want.

I was going to write yesterday after tea, then one of our 3 tonners got stuck in a ditch miles away from anywhere. As I was orderly officer I had to go out and arrange for it to be towed out and brought home. Fortunately it came out of the ditch at the first pull.

In the afternoon I was fortunate enough to get a ticket for a piano recital by Maurice Cole. Quite frankly I did not know who Maurice Cole was, but usually these piano recitals are very good, so I was glad of the opportunity. Quite a number of our battery wanted to go but we could get only 20 tickets, about 50 wanted to go. The audience was very large, all service men, and very appreciative. He played Brahms, Bach, Chopin, Liszt, Debussy and De Falla (Ritual Fire Dance) and Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata. A very varied and enjoyable programme which showed the pianist's versatility. He played entirely without music. The Bach-Gounod was Myra Hess's arrangement of Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring. The Debussy, much to my enjoyment, was "Clair de Lune"!

He played for over an hour and would have been well encored had he not been booked for another concert in another town many miles away. There were 3 Ensa girls in the audience, the first English women I have seen since my leave!

Your letter of last Thurs. arrived yesterday. Strawberries make my mouth water, but we hope to have some soon, there seems to be a good crop around here (we are allowed to buy luxury goods and perishable foodstuffs, so we should get some). The rate of exchange helps us considerably, although at the moment I have not seen anything worth buying. Anyway, we have had asparagus for two evening meals in the Mess (7d. a pound to us!)

I have heard Churchill's and Attlee's speeches. Churchill's was a typical Tory speech, but it would certainly win more votes than Attlee's. Churchill stooped very low in his electioneering tricks, using all the old Tory dodges of talking about "the cottage homes of England" and "the poor man's nest eggs" being in danger. He grossly misrepresented the Socialist party and as far as the Liberal party was concerned he seemed to say "You Liberals have got the right ideas and I like you. Why don't you join the Tory party who are putting your ideas into practice", hardly logical, but typically Churchill.

Attlee, by contrast, was much fairer, but so dull, we all went to sleep. It is time some man of courage in the Labour Party told him, as someone told Chamberlain, "In the name of God, go!", because the Labour Party will not win an election with Attlee as leader.

David has just told me I am to take a Regimental party to Hamburg on Saturday to see the Vic-Welles production of "Arms and the Man". That is the best detail I have had for a long time. To-night we are going to see Henry V which is on at the cinema in Verden.

June 7th

I enjoyed a pleasant swim in the lake this afternoon, took a party of the men down. Our programme this week seems to be, work in the morning, recreation and sport in the afternoon. An excellent arrangement.

I thought of you particularly at midday. I was passing through Verden when I saw about 12 couples walking along arm in arm, following each other. The women were all dressed in white long dresses, carrying bouquets, the men in best civilian clothing and wearing buttonholes. 12 other couples sharing our happy wedding day. Whether or not they were German I did not know, as we were at the time not far from a Polish D.P. camp.

I saw the film Henry V last evening and enjoyed it thoroughly. Most unusual presentation of Shakespeare, but most effective. It was a little unusual to be told before the film was shown that if any of the soldiers did not like the film they were not to make their comments public in the cinema and there would be an interval half-way through to enable those who did not like the film to go out. Actually only 4 men did leave at the interval and by that time the least interesting part of the film had been shown. If they had seen it through to the end I am sure they would have been satisfied.

We had supper when we returned and there were strawberries for dessert, quite a fitting end to our "holiday".

(Pause while I listen to a recording of Lord Samuel's speech at 18.30 on our programme). 19.00. I thought Samuel's speech excellent and a much better antidote to Churchill's than Attlee's. Samuel raised the level of political speeches and I hope it will stay on that plane. I only hope as many people heard it as heard Churchill's, because Churchill's was really deplorable.

June 8th

Nothing very much has happened to-day. I went salvage collecting again this afternoon around the villages under our supervision. We collected quite a fair quantity of old equipment, empty tins and ammunition boxes, a few rusty weapons and also a quantity of civilian gas masks. Our usual procedure is to visit the Burgomaster and tell him we are coming round to collect these items the following day and he must have them in one central dump by the time we state. Despite the fact that the villages are very straggly, his instructions seem to get around and our orders are complied with. In our own village they do use a "town-crier" and they also have large notice-boards on which instructions can be placed. But it is surprising how quickly news will travel. I suspect the Burgomaster's wife as being the source of all the village intelligence!

We had a very heavy thunderstorm last night, lasting several hours, with torrential showers. We have had storms or thundery showers every evening for quite a time now. We wondered when we came here why all the farms had so many lightning conductors (the Officers Mess farm boasts 5 over the main roof alone) but we know now the reason.

June 10th

I'm afraid you will be without a letter from me for two days. I did not write yesterday owing to the Hamburg trip and I have missed to-day's post. This afternoon our Battery played 342 Battery at Cricket in the next village and David and I went across more for politeness sake and to give our team a little encouragement. We did not intend to stay long, but it was quite a sporting wicket, and the game was quite interesting. We were invited to tea by the 342 officers and of course had to go and watch for a little while after tea. The game finished rather quickly and we found ourselves staying to see the end. By the time we had got away and I had mounted the guard supper was ready, and the post had been collected. The games ended in a win for the other battery by 7 wickets, but as everyone enjoyed the game the result did not matter. It was rather cold but the rain kept off.

I had a very good day yesterday at Hamburg and thoroughly enjoyed the play. The journey to Hamburg was rather dull and long. 3 hours each way in a 3 ton lorry is not the pleasantest way to see a play. However, it was well worth it.

It was the full London cast with Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, Dame Sybil Thorndyke, Margaret Leighton, Joyce Redman and the rest. Ralph played the Swiss Captain remarkably well and he gave an excellent imitation of a tired soldier trying to keep awake, in the first Act.

Surprising, to me, how up-to-date Shaw is in some parts. His references to soldier's life and a soldier's attitude to war were most apt and much appreciated by the Service audience (probably in a way that Shaw did not intend). The "chocolate-cream" soldier who never carried ammunition (his pouches were always stuffed with chocolates and sweets) had many a counterpart in the audience and the General who insisted on putting the phrase "peace but not friendly relations" in the treaty between Austria and Serbia was rather startled at the roar of laughter from the "non-fraternisation" keepers of this age.

The maid, Louca, was very coquettishly played by Joyce Redman, while Margaret Leighton made a most attractive heroine, looking most charming in a "modernised" Victorian nightdress (i.e. the style was Victorian but the material modern and flimsy). The beauty of the play also came from the authenticity of the dresses and staging and the whole production was really enjoyable. I have not enjoyed a play so much. I am hoping to go to see Peer Gynt on Tuesday if I can persuade David my services are not urgently required here.

The theatre of "Schauspielhaus" was very well preserved after all Hamburg's terrible bombing. It is very close to the main railway station but has suffered very little damage. The interior is rather like a small opera house, with ornate boxes and many lights.

Before the curtain went up, there was a certain amount of clapping among the audience. It was rather puzzled until I noticed some blushing A.T.S. girls in the boxes. A very few, and nearly all had officers as escorts. (The Daily Mirror estimates there are 50 officers to every A.T.S. girl in Hamburg which means there must be one A.T.S. to 500 or more soldiers!).

We had to walk quite a long way to find an Officers Club where we could have tea. The habitable buildings are few and far between. It must have been a pleasant, busy city in its heyday, but most of it is now ruined beyond recognition. There is nothing in London, I'm sure, which can compare with the utter devastation of much of Hamburg.

We came back along the autobahn for most of the way. They are certainly lovely roads, rather monotonous but comfortable, both for driver and passengers. They are not yet in perfect working order as many of the bridges over the road and over the rivers, etc., were blown by the retreating Germans and in places there are narrow bridges and bomb craters to cross. But the road is sufficiently well repaired to give you a speedy journey.

By going to Hamburg, I missed seeing the Guards Armoured Division have its parade before Monty. They had an elaborate parade on an aerodrome near here to say goodbye to their tanks. "A Farewell to Armour". They are going back to their traditional role of Guardsmen as infantry. After Monty's inspection and speech they drove off into the distance in their tanks, dismounted and marched back as infantry.

Afterwards the officers had a very well organised lunch and they had their own miniature Derby. No actual race, but they had the wireless commentary relayed and had prepared a miniature course with models for the horses and starting and finishing post. They also had a "tote" and the officers were able to place their bets. So they had a more enjoyable Derby than the people at Newmarket which I understand was Champagneless. This "Derby" certainly was not. The profits from the Tote went to the Guards Welfare Committee. I'm very glad I went to Hamburg.

June 13th

I have had to move out of the Mess to make room for Major Loveday who is expected back at any moment. I have quite a comfortable room which has the advantage of being away from the Mess wireless set and I can slip away and be quiet when I want to.

Well, I did manage to see Peer Gynt yesterday which accounts for my not writing. I was thoroughly enchanted and bewitched by the whole play and the production and enjoyed every moment of it. It is more than a play, it is a whole exhibition of surrealist paintings brought to life and moulded into a pattern.

Ralph's performance was magnificent and very convincing. I feel quite certain that he is a true actor who studies and reacts to his audience. I am sure that some of his scenes he played quite differently in London from the way he played yesterday to a totally different audience.

We had no free time in Hamburg on this occasion, we came straight back and managed the journey in 2¾ hours, a very good time.

This morning we had the disagreeable time at Court Martial of my Gunner Blair, accused of stealing the stockings. Fortunately he still pleaded guilty and we were able to have the case heard first (there were 5 cases before the Court, 2 for fraternisation, I think, and one for losing a watercart!) Our case took just over an hour with all the formalities. By pleading guilty it saved time over repeating the evidence and the only evidence called was as to character. I gave the Gunner a very good character, far better than he deserved really. There is a possibility of the whole charge now being quashed which in many ways would be quite a good thing. The man has not made any attempt to deny the charge or tell any lies and I feel he has already learned his lesson.

The German woman who lost the stockings must have been very bewildered. We had to take her along with us in case the man did plead Not Guilty, in which case she would have had to produce the stockings again. However, she was not required, and after waiting an hour and drinking a cup of tea she was brought back again. She must have thought it all very, very strange. Especially as she lost 3 pairs of stockings and only 1 pr. has been returned!

June 14th

To-day has been rather a lazy one for me. The whole Battery was on parade at 9.0 a.m., we then gave 3 rousing cheers for H.M. King George V and then dismissed for the rest of the day! It is his official birthday and so we have a holiday, the first this War for most of us. In England, his birthday was never celebrated. The village populace must have wondered what all the fuss was about.

I have spent most of the day lazing about reading William and Dorothy, a biography of the Wordsworths. I find it most absorbing, possibly because it was written by a woman about another woman, as it is mainly concerned with Dorothy.

However, the book did make me feel like a "wander" as Dorothy called their country walks, so after dinner I wandered off into the woods. Very peaceful there this afternoon, but most of the animal and bird life was hiding or sheltering from the threatening rain. I did see a huge bird which I could not identify, also a red squirrel and, on my way back, a hind about 50 yards away. It did not run away even though it had seen me and I did not disturb her. I did see some wild flowers that I had never seen before, but I could not describe them to you.

Incidentally the book describes their visit to Germany when they arrived at Hamburg and crossed the Luneburg Heide. Having crossed the Heide twice recently I could sympathise with them on their slow, wearisome journey, which took two days.

I have just reached the part where they go and live at Dove Cottage. Having seen Dove Cottage and knowing that district, the book is very much alive and makes one homesick for such sights and sounds.

I have just heard Churchill's second election speech, a little more balanced than the first and quite an effective contribution. But it is so easy to present your programme in its most favourable light when people have not an opportunity to compare it with anything else. The electors have not a sufficient knowledge to look back over the last 10 years and consider what we might be like now if other policies and plans had been followed than the Conservative. And looking back one can see quite a steady promise of progress, if not much actual progress. And it is this promise of progress which Churchill puts so effectively into his speeches.

June 15th

Your parcel containing the table tennis balls and the set of draughts arrived this afternoon and the balls are already in use. Thank you very much, the men appreciate it very much, they love table tennis.

They ran quite a successful Whist Drive on Wednesday evening, the second they have organised, and both have been successful. I'm rather glad I suggested this Welfare Committee, it has made quite a difference to the morale of the Troop. It causes a few complications at times, but we get over them.

It has been another quiet day to-day, with more sun than of late, but still windy and showery. We have not been able to swim for over a week now.

Major Loveday has not come back yet and we think he must have stopped at Brussels. What it is to be a B.C. If he doesn't come soon I may move back into my old room.

I have been annoyed all day at the loss of my hat badge. I missed it yesterday evening after my "wander" in the woods, but I thought I still had it when I returned to the Mess. I cannot say whether any German children have taken if off the hatstand in the Mess (quite possible). But I am rather afraid it must have been dragged out of my beret by the leaves and branches in the woods. Very annoying, because they are quite expensive and not easy to replace.

You will know now that I did not make myself known to Ralph. It was not easy with a party of 20 soldiers waiting to go back and I find it difficult to dissociate an actor from his part, I should be interviewing Peer Gynt, not Ralph, but I might as well admit that my natural shyness prevented me more than anything! One ought not to be shy of Ralph, he is too big a man for that, but I'm probably more shy of meeting all the other persons before being able to get to Ralph, if you understand me.

June 17th

I have just returned from having a few photographs taken. You will soon have more photographs of me than of anyone else in our album. We had an "official" photograph taken by a mild looking German of all the officers in the Regiment, then one of the Battery officers, and quite a number of private snaps by officers with looted cameras. To-morrow the "official" photographer is to come again and take one of the whole Battery.

It is a lovely summer afternoon but there is still a cool breeze blowing which is quite chilly in the early morning or late evening. The swallows have been flying low around the village streets for quite some days. They are very active now, feeding the young ones, darting in and out of the nests with restless energy. There are two nests in the rafters of the large barn in the Officers Mess Farm. Each nest now has 4 or 5 young swallows gaily chirping and you can just see their tiny heads and beaks above the rim of the nest. The parents dart in and out of the barn, hover on the nest, pop in some morsel, usually an insect or a moth, and fly out again very quickly. They seem to be quite indifferent to human beings, possibly because of their speed as they fly very close to you when you are in the barn or walking in the street.

Perhaps I notice the swallows more just now, having just finished reading William and Dorothy. I did not realise that she ended her days so tragically, becoming a lunatic for nearly 20 years. Certainly she deserves to be better remembered for without her aid and devotion William would never have been a poet other than a private one, and the world a poorer place. In future I shall always regard Wordsworth's poetry as being composed by William & Dorothy Wordsworth. The details of Coleridge's "life" are a revelation, and rather shatter ones illusions of what poets are.

I was so engrossed in reading the book yesterday and talking politics with the officers that I did not write. Major Loveday returned late on Friday evening and kept us up late talking. He has been talking the most True Blue Tory Tosh since he has been back and we, or rather I, have been valiantly defending radicalism. I am afraid the Labour Party are not making things easy for their supporters and are playing into the hands of the Conservatives.

Thank you very much for sending all that Election material which is now in the Election room. Incidentally the B.C. did not bring any back with him so I am glad I did not rely on him alone. The Liberal stuff is quite good but the Conservative paper is easily the best election material. Naturally, because they can afford it, but the Liberals would do well to study election advertising with a view to making their matter more topical and "popular". i.e. more like news and magazine articles than election matter. (N.B. they did produce some excellent stuff, later. – Ed.)*****

Can you get me any better Labour leaflets. The ones you sent are good but too heavy for the soldiers and also was printed and published before the election was decided on.

The only opinion I can get from the men is that they cannot understand why it was necessary to have an election now and why the Government which beat Germany wasn't good enough to carry on and beat Japan. I think this attitude is growing and is likely to be quite a deciding factor in the soldier's mind when he votes. He identifies the Churchill Govt. not with the Tories or vested interests or unemployment or doles or queues or bad housing. To him the Churchill Govt. is a good government, which looks after him, pays him reasonably well, gives him good food and equipment and wins wars. Also it appears to get on well with Russia and America and is generally respected. Therefore he can not see any reason to change it.

This is going to be the attitude of many service men who have grown up cut off from party strife, know nothing of pre-war politics and are ignorant of what democracy and liberty really mean. So I forecast little change in the representation in the House, if anything an increase in National seats at the expense of the Labour Party. That estimate, of course, is based on the service vote which may not follow the civilian attitude.

As a change from the larger snaps I am enclosing some taken by Harry during the campaign. Not very good ones, but at least some records of our doings. They were all taken either just before the Rhine crossing or just before the Bremen battle.

June 18th

I have spent the afternoon playing cricket. Quite a pleasant way of passing the time on a cool summer's afternoon. The wicket is not exactly up to County standard as it has just been prepared in the middle of a newly mown hayfield. The ground here, too, is very soft for cricket pitches. However we managed a proper "village cricket" style of game. My team won quite easily, 76 to 22. I surprised myself and everyone else by making top score 31. Most of them had to be run and I was quite hot at the end of my innings. Major Loveday played and scored 1 run, not exactly a glorious display. So I may play more cricket if I can always repeat such efforts!

To-night there is a concert in the theatre of the D.P. camp near here. It has been organised by one of our officers and has a few D.P.s in the cast as well as some members of the Regiment.

I almost forgot to mention that we had a Battery photograph and a Troop photo taken this morning.

June 20th

The Regimental Concert on Monday evening was a great success despite its amateurishness. It was put on in the theatre in the D.P. camp near here. There were some Italian musicians who formed the band which was a notable feature of the evening. A few songs and jokes and musical items made up the programme which was presented with much snap and verve by Capt. Henry Potter. I have not mentioned Henry before because he really needs a whole letter to himself, which I cannot afford. Anyway, our Henry was sent to our Battery just before Bremen. He then went on leave and returned to us in this village. He has the very easy and congenial job of being Regimental Entertainments Officer, chiefly because he is so good at it. Also he is such an independent character that he can never be tied down to do any routine Regimental work. In private life he is quite a rake. But one thing he can do very well is organise concerts and entertainments, and so he is tolerated. I don't quite know why he was posted to this Battery, presumably the C.O. knew of his past and did not consider him suitable for the R.H.Q. Mess. On his own telling he has been threatened with Court Martial once for carrying women around in official cars. According to him he has put on several expensive shows at Antwerp and knew all the chorus girls and cabaret stars personally.

Yesterday afternoon I went swimming in the lake and enjoyed it. The lake is not quite my ideal, I'd like a small island in the middle.

This afternoon was a Regimental Athletics Meeting and we had a very enjoyable afternoon. The Verden Stadium was at our disposal and it had all the essentials for a good Sports meeting, including a grandstand on the shady side. The events were all very closely contested and amid great excitement 341 Battery beat 342 Battery. We won 33 pts., 342 – 30, RHQ – 14, 462 Battery 8 pts. Quite a triumph for the Battery and everyone got very hot and excited, shouting ourselves hoarse. I did not take part in any of the events, just a very interested spectator.

We are now putting all our armoured vehicles off the road and into storage barns and preparing them ready to be handed in and disposed of. These indications certainly look as though we may be getting rid of them fairly soon, the first stage before coming home. Also we are starting Regimental classes next week for 7 days only. At the end of the week the Colonel may extend the classes a further 7 days and at the end of that period he may extend it another 7 days. So it looks as though our date for moving is within the next 3 weeks.

Incidentally, we have now heard that Mac was definitely killed. They lost their way and went careering on through the enemy lines, being shot at by everything. An A.P. shell went right through the tank, but no one was hurt until Mac was killed by a grenade thrown on top of the turret. Everyone else was taken prisoner and they are all home now.

June 22nd

Life continues very placidly here, no one working very hard and no one bothering very much. Yesterday was the hottest day and night we have experienced so far. We hoped it would storm in the night to clear the air, but except for a few summer showers, to-day has been dry and sultry.

I was very glad of a swim yesterday afternoon, this time in a canal not far from the village. After supper we had some cricket practice in a net in the grounds of the Officers Mess. It was so warm that we took off our shirts and played stripped to the waist. We did not finish until 10.0 p.m. and it was still very warm. I managed to get a cold bath, however, and we went to be quite refreshed.

We are plagued by flies in this village. We have a few fly papers but not nearly enough to catch all the flies. We have some fun in the Mess having fly-swatting competitions, the B.C. is most amusing dancing around with a fly swatter made from a piece of tyre fastened to a short stick. Last night, however, the B.C., Roy and David carried things to excess. They had been out all evening, drinking, and returned about 1.30 a.m. Found the kitchen swarming with flies and for about an hour they swatted flies, shouting and banging away, keeping Harry and John awake. I was glad I was not sleeping in the Mess.

Glad you went to Mikardo's meeting. You are getting brave to heckle at such a large meeting. Unfortunately I wish you had chosen some other point to heckle on than P.R. Much as I appreciate the necessity for P.R. it is the one point in the Liberal programme that I am not convinced over. My reasons are not rational, I appreciate. But I don't believe the public wants P.R. yet or are sufficiently educated to appreciate it. A "simple" yea or nay serves the British temperament much better, at least at present. But I am open to persuasion! I am amused, not shocked, at your chalk exploits. There ought to be more of that done, we used to have much more fun at elections when I was at school than we do now.

The bugle has just sounded in the street. The "town crier" is going his rounds reading out an announcement. I think our B.C. has ordered all people entering or leaving the village to report to him first. I'm not quite sure of the reason, possibly to keep check on the German soldiers who are being returned to work on the farms.

You would not enjoy being in this village just now as the haymaking is well under way. All day long the great long carts carrying the hay rumble through the village and the hay is stored away in the lofts and barns. In some of the larger farms, such as ours, they have an electrically operated suction machine which sucks the hay from the carts into the barn up above. Saves quite a lot of time and trouble. All the women and children in the village help with the haymaking.

Nearly all the children, especially the young children, walk around barefooted in all weathers. Many of the women, too, walk barefooted indoors where there are often stone floors and sometimes wear just plain sandals or flappy shoes that slip on and off quickly. I understand this is typically German, not Nazi, and nothing to do with the war.

I find the little girls, or some of them, very charming in their short plaits which look most attractive with their bright blonde hair. One little girl about 3 or 4 years old, whom everyone calls "Blondchen", always takes hold of my hand when I pass her and insists on walking with me. She lives in the farm where our Battery Office is situated and where we stayed when the advance party first arrived in the village. It is a good job we are now permitted to fraternise with children, otherwise I should find it embarrassing!

June 24th

We should have been playing Cricket this afternoon, but someone mismanaged the fixture list. However, we played yesterday and there is another game to-morrow. It is almost too hot for cricket, anyway, and it looks as though a storm is brewing up, we have heard the distant rumble of thunder and the sky is overcast and heavy.

Yesterday's game against 342 Battery was not very successful. I "distinguished" myself by scoring a "duck" in each innings and cropping a catch from the star batman of the opposing team! So we were soundly beaten by 9 wickets. To-morrow my Troop are playing the officers and the game should prove entertaining if not instructive!

It was so hot playing yesterday that we played stripped to the waist. My top half is getting quite a healthy tan.

I am enclosing the souvenir copy of the 2nd Army Thanksgiving Service. It is sent mainly for its pretty cover and as a memento than for any sentimental or spiritual reasons. The service was attended by some of our men and a number of copies of the Service were sent to units for distribution as souvenirs. For your information the designs on the cover represent the divisional and corps signs of the various formations which composed the 2nd Army. These symbols and signs have many uses in warfare and are not mere ornaments, or colourful additions to uniforms to add glamour to the Army. Their chief use is to denote areas of administration, locations of units and headquarters and to mark the routes followed by units in advances (and retreats!) and to guide the supply columns. They were of special importance to us because we changed divisions and corps and brigades so quickly.

cover of programme for thanksgiving service   title page of programme for thanksgiving service

June 25th

It has been fine and sunny to-day, cooled by a pleasant breeze. We played cricket this afternoon, the Officers Mess versus B Troop. I regret to say the officers lost by 10 runs. We made 49 (of which I scored 6) and then B troop scored their runs with a wicket to spare. I had a rather disastrous over at bowling which gave them 10 easy runs and just turned the tide of victory. However, it was quite an enjoyable afternoon.

In the morning Harry Treble and I went to 3 of our villages to check the identity papers of the discharged soldiers. We found that about a third of the men had discharged themselves or deserted from the Forces in the last weeks of the fighting, which shows how bad morale had become and the disorganisation of the Army.

Our instructions what to do with these self-discharged men are not quite clear and for the moment we are telling them to remain where they are and continue working on their farms.

I have just finished reading a Penguin book called "Son to Susanna", a biography of John Wesley. I found it very interesting, but a little difficult to read as it occasionally presupposed that you know some of the intimate details of his life. His love life was most peculiar and he never really grappled the problem of marriage, always fighting shy of decision. He fell in love at least four times and finally married a widow whom he did not love. Certainly a peculiar romantic.

I am now just beginning on the Penguin Herodotus. We are rather limited for reading material and our stock of books is mainly confined to some rather battered paper books. However, it is quite a varied selection.

The election "fever" has died down somewhat in our Mess, but no doubt it will revive when the voting papers arrive. Incidentally, I don't think any provision has been made for the men who are on leave to England to record their vote, which seems quite an oversight.

June 27th

Yesterday our Troop had to spend 24 hours away from this village picketing and policing 3 villages on the other side of Verden and the R. Aller. We rounded up all the German soldiers who had not been properly discharged or whose identity was uncertain and sent them off to a P.O.W. camp for questioning. Providing they are not S.S. men they should get released very quickly. We were surprised how docilely they went, they made no objections when they were ordered into the lorry and none of them asked to fetch anything, such as clothing, washing kit, books, etc. Possibly it is because they know we do not ill-treat prisoners and possibly some of them, who belong to East Prussia, fear that if they misbehave they will be sent to the Russian zone.

We had to set guards in the villages at night in an attempt to catch some Poles who have been looting in the neighbourhood. They rob isolated farms for food and clothing and at one farm had killed 2 pigs and a calf. They are supposed to be armed with knives and old German bayonets, but as far as I know have no guns or ammunition.

David and I and some of the men slept in a house in the nearest village. Eitze. The women of the house quite cheerfully gave us bedrooms and made no fuss whatsoever, going about their work singing and preparing our room and tidying it before we went in. I'm sure English housewives, in similar circumstances, would rather be rude and obstructionist rather than lift a finger to help any German soldiers who wanted to live in their houses.

In the evening, David and I strolled into the village and called at the inn and had a glass of beer. The inn is used by some R.E.s as a canteen, but German civilians also use it. David and I sat outside at a small table which was looking rather weather-beaten. The hostess came out and spread a pretty blue table-cloth for us and went away without saying a word. Again I'm sure than Mine Hostess of an English inn would be far too independent and indignant to go out of her way to make her inn more attractive to the Germans. Possibly it is professional pride, possibly it is that they have not that same deep inborn hatred of authority that the British people have. They certainly do not seem to appreciate that they have lost their liberty, because they seem incapable of really appreciating freedom and liberty, it is not their nature. Don't think for a moment that I am preaching Vansittartism, because I know it is too early and too easy to make sweeping deductions from a few incidents. But I am more and more inclining to the view that either by Nature of history the Germans do not possess that sturdy independence that the British people show in all walks of life and in every circumstance. It may be that this is the reaction from 12 years of serfdom under Naziism and that they have not yet fully realised how free they now are, and their independence, so long in chains, needs time to grow and assert itself.

I think, and hope, that it is history, and not nature which has made the Germans so obedient and docile to authority. Certainly I think that our policy must be to maintain authority and rule in Germany to prevent any unscrupulous person again from taking advantage of the German docility and gradually, by giving them little privileges, the chance of governing themselves and of organising their own institutions, making them prize liberty and freedom of speech and religion as the greatest jewels and assets of this world, we may hope to democratise Germany. But this process must inevitably take a long time and I fear that weakness at home in Britain and the shortsightedness of politicians and of well-meaning people, will relax our hold on Germany before she has fully grown to "manhood". If only we can concentrate on at least one generation all the philosophy of liberalism that is part of the inborn heritage of every British man and woman, the German menace will be forever beaten.

Unfortunately, or fortunately for us, it rained most of last night (and most of to-day) and there was no looting activity in our area. So we returned to Stedorf this morning. A Troop are going out again to-morrow for 24 hours.

June 29th

My Troop played C Troop of 342 Bty. yesterday afternoon and won by an innings and 6 runs which was quite a notable victory. I scored 9 runs before being run out. Unfortunately, I pulled my right thigh muscle while running and I am a bit of a cripple to-day. All it wants is some massage and rest.

342 Bty. were unlucky on the previous day to have one of their men drowned in the River Aller which flows through their village. He was not a good swimmer and seemed to lose his head when he found the strong current was dragging him away from the bank. Although two strong swimmers tried their hardest to rescue him he was drowned almost in his own depth.

I am glad to say that none of our soldiers swim in that river. It is the sixth swimming fatality that we have heard of in the last fortnight.

For three hours this afternoon I have to sit with a party of 6 men and check all the people who cross the River Weser by the ferry near this village. I could think of worse occupations on a warm sunny afternoon.

June 30th

We have been to the inter-Regt. sports in Verden this afternoon. The meeting was spoiled by heavy thundershowers and I'm afraid our Regt. got a thorough hiding. We lost by 93 points to 30 without winning any major running event. The other Regiment, 127 Field of the Highland Division, had some very good athletes.

Last night we had our second Regimental concert, which was almost a flop, and was only saved by the last minute introduction of a Norwegian danseuse. Henry was not able to produce his Olga as he could not get permission to take a vehicle all the way to Belgium for that purpose. However, at the last moment he managed to hear of this woman who lives at Rotenburg, about 14 miles away, and he brought her into the show, even before she had had an audition. She wasn't particularly good, but merely because it was a woman and merely because she danced in some very becoming costumes, the men applauded her terrifically. So the show was saved!

Frank Lowther returned from leave to-day so we have another subaltern to assist with the orderly officer duties. We have guests to-night from 342 Battery.

July 1st

If all goes according to plan I should be home in England on my 9 days leave on July 14th. This is just the ordinary B.L.A. leave, and nothing to do with other things.

We were to have played an Officers Cricket game this afternoon, but it rained so hard just before it was due to start that we had to cancel the match. Instead we played a very good indoor game of skittles, rather like the game played in parts of England, such as Devon. It is not as easy as it looks and we got quite a lot of fun out of it.

This evening we are having an informal party in the Mess and Henry Potter has arranged to bring along some nurses from the Field Hospital in Verden and also his Anita and another friend. I cannot imagine what sort of party it will be and quite frankly I am not at all looking forward to it. I can't imagine what we shall do, our resources are so limited and dancing is pretty well out of the question. It is supposed to start at 6.30 but I am not interested in being there at the start.

To-morrow, I believe they are having a B.C.'s conference to talk about the Regiment's future and promotions. So I may possibly have to give some decisions to-morrow without having heard from the Customs. We look like losing Major Loveday very soon as he has arranged for himself to become 2nd in command of an R.A. Regiment in 3 Div. The senior Gunner officer in 3 Div. is our old Colonel, now Brigadier, Fanshawe, so you can see the Army "Freemasonry" has been at work. Our Adjutant, Capt. Thornton, is becoming his Brigade Major. This is all a part of the big demob. wangle. Officers, when demobbed, have their gratuity based on the highest paid rank held as an officer. So the racket is to get yourself promoted 3 months before you are to be demobbed and you get a much bigger gratuity. Anyway, it is something I must bear in mind, but possibly by that time someone will have tumbled to the racket.

I liked the Liberal pamphlet addressed to the Women. I have now got the Officers Mess very conscious that there is a Liberal Party.

July 2nd

I have borrowed the typewriter again to continue writing the Battery's diary of last year. Each week I contribute an article headed 12 months ago, and it is proving quite popular. The Editor reminded me that soon I shall be on leave for over 2 issues, so he wants me to send him 3 weeks work next week. So I must get a little ahead. Even the B.C. said he thought it was good and said I must write the Battery's history. I reminded him that I had already done a 2000 word one and heard nothing more about it. Perhaps he will now enquire.

Our party did go off quite well last night, but they are not my idea of parties. There were only four women to 9 officers, which may account for my non-enjoyment. One was Anita, the dancer, with whom I exchanged but a few words. In any case she was monopolised by the B.C. who found she could speak Spanish very well. The B.C. took her home in his Jeep about 3 a.m.

There were two nurses from the British hospital at Rotenburg. Brenda was a very gay girl from Newcastle, Pat rather quiet and very Scotch, hailing from Dundee. They were both officers, of course, and quite different types from Anita and Henry's Dutch girl. We did try to dance to the wireless but it was too difficult and I did not dance. They also departed soon after midnight, but not before I had persuaded Brenda to sing us some Geordie songs and delighted us with Blaydon Races.

After they had gone I got rather involved in a political argument with Roy who was a bit merry, his chief cry was that if the Labour Party got into power it would mean the end of the British Empire. Also he thinks that a vote for a Liberal is as good (or bad) as a vote for Labour, because it is not a vote for Churchill. We were still arguing about this at 2.30 a.m. when I went to bed. Roy came to bed about an hour later and woke me up to continue the argument, but I was very annoyed and he then left off. (He has to go through my room to get to his).

Talking about voting, I received my ballot papers to-day. We are voting to-morrow. I don't think it is quite fair to vote before the people at home but that is what we are told to do. I think it is only our Adjutant's order because until I saw him this morning he was under the impression that the votes were being counted on July 5th.

July 3rd

By rights—if I was not coming on leave so soon—I should be in Brussels now. In the end there were two vacancies and both troop commanders have gone. So once again the Subalterns run the Battery. Our B.C. is expecting to get transferred any moment so he is not taking a great deal of interest in his work.

To-day is voting day here and I suppose I am about the first person to record a vote for Tronchin-James. In this Battery we have 84 men with a postal vote and I think all but two have used it. There were some men, of course, who did not apply for a postal vote, leaving the voting entirely to their proxy. But we have at least 6 men who have been entirely deprived of a vote, even a proxy vote, through somebody's mismanagement. They have all completed the necessary forms but they have either been mislaid, lost in transit or completely ignored. There has been a certain amount of incompetence somewhere. One man appointed his father as proxy before he left England and his father was informed that he was his son's proxy. In April the man applied for a postal vote. Ten days ago his father is informed that he cannot use the proxy vote as his son is not on the electoral roll. Nor has the man received a postal vote or any explanation. Such a man has a legitimate complaint, but there are quite a lot of men in the Army who have no vote through their own negligence in not completing the required forms. They were given plenty of warning and opportunity to apply to be placed on the Services roll.

There is one point which is not sufficiently stressed and that is that the men can still apply to be put on the electors roll even though it won't help them at this election. It is quite possible though, that another election may be necessary at the end of the year in which case the services should have another opportunity of getting their names on the October Register. But no one seems to be trying to do anything about it.

It has been another cold and showery day, such a change from the beautiful weather of early June. This afternoon I took a party of men to the village of Armsen which comes under our control. The men are staying the night in the village to try and catch any curfew breakers, werewolves (if any) and any looters, although we have had no complaints about looters from there. I meant to tell you about my security check at the ferry last Friday afternoon. We took one person to the Field Security Police to question, as I thought he might have been an important person. It appeared he had been a Lieutenant General in the German Army retired or discharged in 1943. He had been resident in Berlin until the end of March of this year when he moved to Verden as it was becoming too uncomfortable in Berlin. After they had taken his particulars he was released while they made further investigation. As he was only crossing the ferry to buy some vegetables from a friendly farmer on the other side of the river he was rather annoyed at the waste of his time.

July 5th

The weather here has taken a turn for the better and I hope you have an equally nice day at home for the election. This must be a busy day for your family, especially for Robert. I should very much like to see him succeed, especially at such a difficult place as Bournemouth. I did read one of his speeches in the local press and he seems to have done some very plain speaking. Of course he does not get nearly the same amount of column-space as the Conservative candidate.

To-day I received quite a lot of literature from the Liberal party. It would have been most useful if we had not voted two days earlier. The B.C. amused me greatly. He, as you know, is a die-hard Conservative, but the Liberal Candidate for his constituency is a young woman, a 29 year old barrister (Muspratt?). Her election address showed a very attractive portrait and the B.C. almost voted Liberal. Almost, but his old school tie feeling was too strong.

In the end 82 out of 84 of the men who received postal votes used them, which is quite a creditable percentage. Of the other 2, one was Irish and the other a Glaswegian, both agin the Government and probably extreme Red.

Yesterday morning, I went to the village of Armsen to interview all the returned soldiers. There were 58 of whom 15 had not been properly discharged. So I took these 15 to the new P.O.W. camp in Verden. Here I was told that the camp was not well organised and that the Divisional Camp was on the move. They could not deal with these men until Sunday, and did not want to give them an uncomfortable time till then. So we made all the men promise to return to the Burgomaster's house in the village at 09.30 on Sunday when I would again pick them up and take them to the P.O.W. camp. They did not appear to be the type to run away, in fact two of them had asked if they could come as they found difficulty in getting rations without English discharge papers! So back I had to take them to their village. Can you imagine the Germans or any other nation treating their prisoners quite like that? You could only do it with Germans, too. I'm sure they will all be there at 9.30 on Sunday, just as if they were still in the Army. When you interview them they come to attention and click their heels, even though they are in civilian clothing.

In this village of Armsen I visited a Russian "nursery". It contains 9 children of ages varying from 2 to 10 years. Their parentage is unknown. They are being cared for by 7 Ukrainian and Russian women. The eldest woman acts as Mother to them all and speaks several languages, but not English. Apparently before the battles in this area, they were scattered in other villages and isolated houses in the neighbourhood. When the British arrived the Captain ordered all these Russian women and children to live in the best house in the village and turned out the German inhabitants. As the Russians had been living in filthy farms and sheds they much appreciated the change. The Captain had ordered the Burgomaster to look after the house and see it was supplied with food. When the British troops left, the Russians remained at the house and were still well treated. Since then 2 Russian officers and their wives have joined the establishment. When, if ever, they will be sent to Russia I do not know. The old woman was a naturalised German. When the first British troops arrived she declared she was Russian. When they left she again said she was a naturalised German and she does not want to go back to Russia. At least this is what the Burgomaster tells us.

Last night a cow was killed near our village, Stedorf. This morning we searched the Italian and Belgian D.P. camp near us but although we found some bacon there was no trace of beef. So this afternoon we searched the Zhukov Camp, which contains mainly Russians, and nearly everybody was eating and cooking meat of some description. What the next step is I am not sure.

To-morrow evening we are having a B Troop sing-song, get together sort of evening. It will probably be the last occasion most of us will be together, as the leave roster starts again and the split-up of the Regiment cannot be long delayed. About the middle of July, probably while I am still on leave, I believe they are arranging to swop men with the Essex Fld. Regt. So many changes may occur while I am on leave. I rather wish David were here to help me out to-morrow evening, but I expect it will go very well.

Then on Saturday evening the Regimental W.O.s, N.C.O.s, etc. are having a big dinner and certain officers have been invited, including myself. Sunday evening looks like being another party in the Mess. So altogether we seem to be having quite a gay time. But they do not appeal to me, now.

July 6th

It has been showery and cool again to-day. Hardly any work done. This morning I went to Nienburg to draw some cash for coming home on leave. I went to the Officers Shop and bought a few articles. They were selling single sheets at 17/11 a pair and they looked very good, so I bought a pair.

This afternoon the Divisional Artillery sports were run in the Verden stadium. It was another wet afternoon for them. This time I did not go as I was busy with the preparations for B Troop's Smoker Party this evening.

Something always goes wrong, of course, and we suddenly found that there was no beer left. So we had to send out a truck which has just returned with one small barrel of very inferior beer. Rather a let down, but no doubt they will enjoy themselves. We have got sandwiches, rolls, butter, cheese, cold meat and potatoes, and some cheese fingers, as well as some cake as a snack meal. We had to borrow the beer glasses from 342 Battery in the next village. I am sorry David is not here, but we had to carry on without him.

I understand that by July 16th about 100 men and 6 subalterns of age-groups 1–26 are being transferred to the Essex Yeo. I shall stay here of course, and I do not know what officers we shall lose. Possibly Frank and Bunny will go. We shall lose about 40 men from the Battery.

July 7th

Our B Troop Smoking Concert went off quite successfully last night. I think the men enjoyed themselves and there was quite a lot of singing. One or two men had quite good voices and we fortunately had at least one pianist who also could accompany. It was quite an informal affair and we had a buffet supper which was much appreciated.

The affair this evening, the dinner given by the Regimental Warrant officers, Staff Sergeants and Sergeants, will be a very formal affair and I cannot say that I am looking forward to it. I hear, however, that a dance has been arranged afterwards, so the offices should have a good opportunity to slip away then. The evening will be noted for its heavy drinking, sergeants seem to have a reputation for being able to consume quantities of liquor. They have spent a lot of trouble organising it, so it should be quite a first class meal.

I have to get up early to-morrow to go to Armsen to pick up those ex-service men who have not been properly discharged. A nuisance on a Sunday morning, but it has to be done.

July 8th

While we were at the Sergeants Mess dinner, Harry and John were taking Brenda and Pat to the cinema in Verden. They took them back to the hospital at Rotenburg (about 20 miles from Stedorf) and about ½ a mile from the hospital their truck developed petrol trouble! Anyway that is their story and they are sticking to it. We were a little alarmed when we found that their beds had not been slept in, wondering if they had had an accident or whether the "Werewolves" had started their activity. According to Harry and John they spent a very uncomfortable night in the back of the 15 cwt. curled up and covered over with one thin gas cape.

The Regimental Sergeants Mess Dinner was a well organised affair and they had taken quite a lot of trouble to decorate the hall and tables with flowers. They had a small Italian orchestra (the one that plays at our concerts) and a number of Italian waiters. A photographer came and took a flashlight photograph but I don't think it will be a success, the magnesium flare took too long to go off. He took a second one later, but as no one was looking at the camera at the time, it won't be much good.

There were the usual speeches and platitudes and back-slapping, no one said anything brilliant or worth remembering. Afterwards we stood around and talked while they cleared the hall and later some women arrived from the various D.P. camps and a dance was held. The women always come with a certain number of men as chaperones, but I don't know how effective the chaperones are. The C.O. stayed to have a dance or two and we could not leave until he did, which was about midnight. But it was nearer one before we managed to get our B.C. away. We had to wait for him as he was driving the Jeep. By that time one or two Sergeants were hopelessly drunk and many more were in the last stages of inebriation. I don't think we cut a very fine figure at such times and I'm only glad that the Germans were not able to see the exhibition, owing to the curfew.

One visitor, a B.S.M. Gray, who was B.S.M. of this Battery in England until just before D day, had to be carried out, he was quite incapable of walking. He had only arrived by chance, without knowing the Dinner was on, and had come all the way from Antwerp. Naturally he was made a fuss of, and he was drunk in consequence.

Roy has just come back with David from Brussels, having just travelled 230 miles in the back of a 3–ton lorry, which rather takes the edge off the leave.

Bunny and Frank are two of the officers who are leaving us next Monday. They are being exchanged direct with two subalterns of the Essex Yeomanry, so it will be interesting to see if I know the two officers who come. When I get back from leave I shall find the faces in the Battery very much different from the ones I know so well.

July 9th

Did you see the eclipse of the sun this afternoon, or were you too busy moving to look at it. I smoked a piece of glass and had quite a good view of it. It was about 3/5 eclipsed here at about the maximum eclipse. It made quite a difference to the heat and brightness of the day, it has been so warm that if there had been no eclipse to-day would have been the hottest day of the year. Such a change after yesterday's dull patches.

To-day I have been visiting the Burgomaster's again, interviewing more discharged soldiers. Each village has had 7 or 8 new arrivals within the last week. One or two of them have not been properly discharged and we take them to a P.O.W. cage to-morrow.

We had another report of looting and on Wednesday we are going to make quite a large scale search of some woods and fields to find if any of the looters are living in disused dug-outs, bunkers, air-raid shelters, etc. We suspect a gang of men are living rough and making forays into the villages to loot food and clothing. If we can only find where they hide we shall soon round them up. The villagers are becoming quite alarmed and want to organise themselves in their own defence. They have even asked for arms to defend themselves, but we cannot permit that, yet.

Last night's party dragged on until 3.0 a.m. but I went to bed at midnight. We were a little startled when the 2 UNRAA girls, who we expected were English, turned out to be Belgian and could talk very little English. However, they knew enough to make conversation and after the initial shock we soon made each other understood. Henry's two friends turned out to be the Dutch girl, Paula, whom he had brought the previous Sunday, and a French girl, who was a Nurse at the D.P. camp. The French girl spoke no English and spoke very quickly in French, so was difficult to understand. Except for the B.C. no one in the Mess speaks a foreign language well, so all things considered the cosmopolitan party got along very well. We danced a little, but the wireless was not too good, so we mainly sat around and talked. But it is not much fun talking for a few hours when there are 8 men to 3 girls, the B.C. monopolising one. So I retired at midnight. Anyway I was bored and tired.


July 27th. Dover

I shall be ringing you up later in the day to tell you the news but I thought I would write you a note as well, just in case. Isn't is stupid, I could be having this time home with you.

At the moment we are not quite certain whether it is just a delay, a 24 hr. cancellation, or 48 hr. cancellation. I gather that the weather is rough the other side which makes it difficult to assess the chances.

We arrived here at 2.30 a.m. I was in bed at 2.50. Reveille was at 4.30 (I got up at 4.50). Breakfast at 5.15, we boarded our lorries at 5.45 a.m. and drove in the rain to the docks. Then we stood in a long corridor, draughty and wet underfoot, for nearly two hours before we were brought back to the Transit Camp. No one quite knew what was happening and as this camp is about 4 or 5 miles outside of Dover it is difficult to get news or get trains to London. However, we can order taxis but we cannot leave this camp (except at our own risk) until we hear definitely whether or not we are sailing to-day. The officer-in-charge seems to think there is a good possibility of us sailing after lunch.

If there is any possibility of coming I will come, especially if it turns out to be a 48 hour cancellation.

We are fairly comfortable here in the Officers Mess of some large modern barracks built in 1940 on the top of the cliffs. I have not quite got my bearings but there would be some lovely walks and views from here if one had the time. At the moment it is still drizzling and the sky is very grey.

I am going to get 40 winks in an armchair in the anteroom while I wait for more definite news.

12.35 p.m. I have just had lunch (cold pork) and we have just heard that there is definitely no sailing to-day but we sail at usual times to-morrow, weather permitting. It is most infuriating. I wish now I had chanced it and caught a train to London straight from the docks.

I think I will take a bus into Dover and have a look around, possibly visit a cinema, although the programmes do not look particularly interesting. I have read nearly all the Conservative papers. Only the Times regrets the failure of the Liberal Party and does not condemn it to extinction. The Telegraph's interpretation of the "swing" as being due to a desire for a change and not a love of Socialism seems to be the general opinion. In that event, the Liberal Party can take comfort that it has not fared worse. If the Lib. Nationals and the Liberals join forces (is that a possibility?) they could become quite an effective minority party in the House and in the country. The swing back of the pendulum in 1950 may help the Liberal Party more than the Conservatives.

July 28th

I went to bed immediately after dinner as I was quite tired (only 2 hours sleep the previous night). I was still tired when they called me at 4.30 a.m., but am feeling fairly awake now. It is a lovely fine day so I expect you have guessed that we sailed to-day.

Quite a pleasant, sunny crossing on the Royal Daffodil and we could see both coasts quite plainly all the way across. We left at 7.30 and finally docked at 9.30 a.m. The transit camp is quite close to the quayside, about 20 minutes walk from here to Calais proper. I expect to walk into Calais this afternoon as my train does not go until 8.30 p.m! The trains go direct to Hamburg now and I expect to detrain at Luneburg and pick up transport there. With luck I should be back late to-morrow night.

When we got off the boat at Calais an old school friend of mine accosted me. He had seen me on the boat but was not quite certain he had recognised me. His name is George Shiel, and he is at present a Sapper in the R.E.s. He was a school teacher in civilian life. He was at the County School with me and we had quite a lot of connections at the Scotch Church. I have not seen him since the war, he was called up in Oct., 1939, (release group 21 lucky chap). He met his wife at Ipswich where he was first posted and now has a daughter aged 3½ . We are going for a walk together into Calais this afternoon, so no doubt I shall hear more of his history.

It was quite a sudden impulse to go to Canterbury yesterday. I went out of the camp with the intention of catching a bus into Dover to see a film. I took the wrong turning and found myself walking into Dover across country and came out on to the main Canterbury road. That set me thinking of Canterbury and when a bus came along going to Canterbury at that moment I just jumped on! Auntie was resting when I arrived and did not have her spectacles on when she opened the door. So it took a little time for her to recognise me!

July 30th

Well, at last I am back in Stedorf and I am missing you already.

Am afraid I have no definite news of the future which is the most important thing you want to hear, I know. We have to hand in our vehicles by August 15th and at the moment we have not had any leave allotment beyond the first week in August. These may or may not be significant, I cannot say. The leave may be an indication because when a Unit is returning to England, leave is cancelled at least 16 days before the Unit embarks. However, we have not been told that we are returning yet and I think nothing will happen before Aug. 31st.

Our B.C. is leaving to-morrow to go to his new job in 3 Div. Dave Benson is going to act as B.C. until and when we get a new B.C. Ron Dorey has got himself a job as Staff Captain at 51 Div. H.Q. so he has gone. Frank Lowther has already gone to the Essex Yeo. but Bunny Warren is still waiting to go. David has been ill all the while I have been away and only got up to-day. He had his wisdom tooth out and has been regretting it ever since. The two new officers from the Essex Yeo. look quite nice although I have not got to know them yet. One is a Lt. Motion whose father, I understand, was Conservative candidate for Mile End! I don't know the other officer's name yet, a Van somebody or something.

Henry Potter is now expecting to go to 30 Corps on Saturday, so we are having many changes. Roy Anderson is waiting to go but still hangs on. Harry Treble and John Bartlett still stay put and are just the same.

I was very glad to get back here after my 24 hour train journey. We left Calais at 8 p.m. Saturday and arrived Hanover 8.p.m. Sunday! How I pitied George Shiel and all the O.R.s on their hard wooden seats. We stopped near Brussels for a bun and cup of tea on the station at 1.0 a.m. and at Gennep, on the Maas, for breakfast at 7.30 a.m. We also managed to get a wash and shave at this transit camp, although I think only the officers had time for this luxury. We should have drawn haversack rations at Gennep but although the O.R.s drew theirs, the Officers did not have any prepared, so we missed our lunch.

We had a cold salad meal at Minden at 5.p.m. in the railway waiting room. Seemed strange to be waited on by German girls here, but presumably this was not the result of fraternisation (I mean the girls probably were working there even when the ban was on).

At Calais I was told to detrain at Luneburg, but when we reached Hanover I was told to detrain there. I was whisked off to an R.H.U. outside the city and spent the night there, after having quite an excellent meal in the Mess. We learnt that leave has now been postponed 5 times (including the 3 days I had). The fourth postponement was due to congestion at the transit camp, but the 5th is supposed to be caused by a Railway strike in England. This must be a rumour as no one here has heard any B.B.C. announcement. I think it is a rumour and that the probable reason is the change of route for leave in future.

This morning there was no transport available to bring me back to Stedorf and I did not fancy waiting in the barracks all day (we were confined to camp until 20.00 hours in case transport did arrive). So I decided to hitch hike back and managed it very easily in 3 hours in 3 Jeeps! One Jeep was driven by a "mad" Irish Colonel, who informed me that up to date he had knocked down 11 German cyclists for "their" reckless driving and had never stopped once to help them! This was probably exaggeration, but I almost asked to get out. However, he only took me ½ way and I was not sorry to get out. So I got back at mid-day, just in time to enjoy a huge dish of macaroni, meat and cheese prepared by an Italian D.P. introduced into the Mess as Chef by Henry Potter!

Incidentally we are still on D.B.S.T. I had to put my watch on one hour at Calais.

July 31st

I have just been wrestling with the difficult task of writing testimonials for some of B Troop men who may be leaving us soon. It is not till you come to write about them on paper that you realise how little you really know about them. We are not allowed to say anything adverse, but of course can omit to say things. It becomes difficult when you have to write the character of a man like Gunner Blair, the man who pinched the silk stockings.

We are supposed to be training this week but I find it most difficult to develop any enthusiasm and am not taking much interest. The men won't take any interest, either, until our future is definitely settled. I have sent my men swimming this afternoon. This evening we are playing cricket against H.Q. Troop. The weather has been fine all day, but there is quite a cool breeze.

I am now living in the Mess in the room previously occupied by Ron Dorey (Bunny Warren is sleeping in my old room until he is posted away). It is a little smaller but quite pleasant with two windows looking out on to the garden. I have to go through David's room to get to mine.

I read "Why Shoot a Butler?" on the train journey and enjoyed it, but agree with you that the police appear too stupid. However, it passed a pleasant few hours. Have now finished reading "The Primer of the Coming World", the ending was not as good as the beginning. You would be interested in the first part, I know. It is by Leopold Schwarzschild. I am now reading The Squire by Enid Bagnold, which you may also like. A novel about a mother who loves children. The book opens when the 5th is due!

We have just had a letter clearing up a few points on fraternisation, but as it was strictly confidential I cannot write about it. It is too early to make any observations on the matter, but at the moment I have not observed much difference. In Hanover I only saw 2 soldiers out of about 300 talking to German girls.

August 1st

Nothing of great interest has happened to-day, except that one of my guns got stuck in a ditch this morning and took some time to get out.

This afternoon I spent in filling up a form to insure my life with the Customs Fund.

The only other thing of interest is that we are having a visit from the Prince Regent of Iraq on Friday and we have to put on a small show for his benefit. We are having a tank and ½ track from this Battery and 4 guns from the other 2 Batteries on show. The snag is that I have got to stand by the tank for the inspection! Why me, I can't think, I hate the idea.

One other thing, there is to be a Regimental Officers Dinner at a hotel in Verden on Friday. Oh, these dinners. I'm sick of those, too. Everyone is so shallow on those occasions. It seems such a waste of an evening when I could be home with you.

Oh! I've just remembered that this evening we are having some guests in, some Lithuanians this time. They are coming over to hear a Lithuanian singer at the D.P. camp that Henry has discovered. She also is coming to the Mess afterwards.

August 2nd

Your letter arrived to-day with the news that Joe is home. Not only home but you have probably seen him on Monday and heard about some of his experiences. Things do happen suddenly these days.

I spent most of the morning arranging compassionate leave for one of my gunners. He was granted 14 days comp. leave to get his business in order. He runs a butcher's shop and his wife is now too ill to supervise it. There are other complications and I think the case was genuine. Anyway it showed me that comp. leave can be granted very quickly if the case is clearly genuine. It took less than 5 minutes at Corps H.Q. to get the case approved, because I took it personally instead of sending it through post.

However, my day was not so entirely satisfactory. In arranging this man's comp. leave I had to take him to see our Colonel. Immediately I saw the C.O. he said he wanted to see me and had me in his office to talk about the future. Well, he wasn't exactly cheerful or optimistic. He said that my chances of getting transferred to Mil. Gov. were very small indeed if not nil. The Army required about 800 Gunner officers for SEAC and at the moment only about 390 are available . . . He wants me to act as B Troop Commander.

I then protested that I didn't think I would make a very good Troop Cmdr. It was essentially a job where you needed enthusiasm to inspire your men and I wasn't at all enthusiastic about the Japanese war or S.E.A.C. He said he had to trust his judgment on that, not mine, and rather dismissed me without more ado.

August 3rd

Two items of information to-day which have given me grains of comfort. Major Loveday returned from Brussels to say that this Regt. can consider itself lucky it is going as a Regt. They are sending off to Burma many hundreds of officers very quickly just now and the drafting officers at H.Q. 2nd Echelon are finding great difficulty in finding sufficient officers to meet the demands. He mentioned drafts of 70 and 100 officers at a time flying to India, so perhaps we are lucky to be still here.

The other item of comfort, if it can be considered as such, was a remark made by our Corps Commander to-day when he visited us with the Prince Regent. "The Japanese war will be over before this Regt. sees any action and you will have a 6 months cruise at the Govt.'s expense." He said that to Major Loveday personally.

Gen. Horrocks has always been optimistic! He was enthusiastic about the Potsdam conference, said it went like wild fire after Bevin arrived. Bevin put Molotov in his place and soon had him eating out of his hand! Possibly all this is gossip, but Horrocks seems to be pleased at the Labour Party's victory. "Best thing that could have happened, old chap. A breath of fresh air in the old country. Gives us new life. They' ll nationalise the Mines and the Railways, etc., but they won't touch the Army!"

The little show on behalf of the Prince Regent of Iraq went off quite successfully. We drove up smartly in front of the stand erected for him and fired one round of blank from four guns. After which we dismounted from our tanks, etc., and he walked round and inspected the vehicles.

The C.O. brought him over to my tank and he shook hands with me. He smiled pleasantly. Rather dusky, quite handsome in a way, slightly taller than myself (and slimmer), about my age, a small dark moustache. Wearing military uniform with numerous decorations (many centred with tiny red roses which stood out in relief and caught my eye). He spoke but little, the C.O. talking about the performance of the tank. There were many other officers of different services and nationality hovering round and some of the Staff Officers took photographs while the Prince was shaking hands and standing talking. I wonder if we shall ever see the photos.

Now we have the Regimental Dinner to-night, then we should have finished with our "polite" functions for a while.

I have enjoyed reading "Why don't we learn from History?" very much and am glad you made me read it. I cannot agree with all he writes, but most of it is so good that I am almost persuaded to believe it all. It almost persuades one to be a C.O., but I can hardly think that was the author's intention.

Perhaps my best solution is to become a C.O., but the trouble is they would think it a very queer conscience that can fight the Germans but not the Japs.

August 4th

Last night's dinner is now just a memory and I am not sorry it is over. The dinner itself was excellent and I enclose the menu. Too much drink, however, was consumed by too many officers and the proceedings were somewhat noisy. The C.O. rather set the fashion for a certain amount of rowdiness but it went a little further than he expected, I'm sure.

While coffee was being served the C.O. decided to play a game. The tables had been arranged in a horseshoe. A circle was made in the middle of the floor space by utilising the empty bottles of wine. A matchbox was placed in the centre of the circle and the game was for each officer in turn to throw a spoon, or some such article, into the circle, the nearest officer to the matchbox to collect 1 Mark (6d) from all the other officers. We all stood on our chairs and amid much laughter and jeering the C.O. threw the first spoon and we all followed in turn. Our new Capt. R.E.M.E. won. If it had stopped there things would have been quite funny. But after having one more round the C.O. had another game. The tables were beautifully decorated with flowers and large plants (not in pots!). The C.O. wanted to use one plant as a ball, throwing it around while we stood on chairs. If you dropped the plant, or fell off your chair, you paid a mark. Unfortunately, other officers thought it would be a good idea to use more than one plant and very soon plants were flying in all directions, shedding petals and leaves everywhere. And of course many plants fell short, skidded across the table tops knocking over and smashing wine glasses and coffee cups, ruining table cloths and uniforms. The dinner broke up in confusion and the more respectable officers (led by me!) retreated hastily to another room. The rest soon followed and things became more sober although some raucous and uncouth singing went on for a long time. Ron Dorey came over for the dinner. He had to leave at 11.30 to get back to his town and I found an opportunity to slip away with him. So I managed to be in bed by midnight, although many other officers were much later. I suppose it served its purpose of getting the old and new officers together, but I think it could have been done a little more pleasantly and with more dignity.

The general opinion among most of the officers is that we shall be home in England by the middle of September and that the Japanese war will be over before we have to do any fighting.

We are rather a small mess just at this moment. Major Loveday left us at lunch time finally. I think we are all sorry to see him go, for all his faults he was a strong personality and when he unbent a rather likeable aristocrat. He has become Second in command of 33rd Field Regt. R.A. and will be stationed near Ghent in Belgium! His last words to me "Go and fight the Japs and don't worry about your family. I' ll look after them for you!", I received with mixed feelings.

Harry and John are spending 48 hours at a rest camp, mainly for yachtsmen. Van Hasselt (the new officer whose name I did not know) has gone on U.K. leave and Henry Potter (whose transfer to Corps has been postponed a week) has gone to Antwerp to buy Gin for the Regiment! Bunny Warren leaves us on Tuesday for the Essex Yeo.

I forgot to tell you that the Lithuanian party of last Thursday did not come off. Henry made a hash of all the arrangements and the singer did not come nor the party of Lithuanians who were coming to hear her.

August 5th

The heatwave that you had yesterday seems to have just reached us, and I enjoyed a swim in the canal. Had a quiet read after, while sunbathing. Absolutely no one around. Reading a light novel "Once in Every Lifetime" by a miner named Tom Hanlin. A rather naive love story which ends tragically.

I have begun to study "Elements of Logic" but progress is slow.

There is nothing new to report from here, things are very quiet. We are losing more men next week and there will soon be none of the reliable N.C.O.s and men left. Our Admin. is going to be difficult, as the experts are all going and we have no good men to replace them. This is happening on all levels in the Army and for a time the Army here is going to be very much below standard.

August 6th

The news this end is just the same, warm weather and sunny, and wasted time and energy. I did nothing this morning except get up at 6.30 a.m. to mount the Regimental guard at 7.0 a.m. The R.S.M. put on a demonstration of guard mounting at 9.0 a.m. which lasted nearly an hour, otherwise the morning was quite wasted. This afternoon I have just played a little knock-about cricket in the nets.

August 7th

Another warm sunny day here. I have been swimming in the open-air bath at Nienburg. It is called a Lido, possessing a pleasant lawn where you can play deck tennis and sit in the sun and drink hot sweet tea (served by German girls). Mixed bathing, there were a few A.T.S. girls there, not many. No Germans are permitted to bathe. Our swimming team are training there for some Divisional Swimming Sports. I'm not in the team, just went for a swim.

I also went into Nienburg to visit the Education officer to try and get an application form for Civil Service Exams, I am going to apply for a job in the Senior Branch of the Foreign Office. The chief advantage from my point of view is that successful candidates can obtain immediate release under Class B from the Services. ¾ of the vacancies are reserved for Service men.

Everyone here is talking about the atomic bomb and its potentialities. Certainly if it can be more developed it could possibly prevent wars or destroy everything. If it makes Japan think again then I shall be most happy, but the consequences of this discovery are colossal. Its effect on the Japanese war, however, is our chief immediate consideration. The supplies of Uranium and the sources of it are now very much a world concern.

It is most refreshing to know that the 2 scientists are Jews and refugees from Hitler, at that.

I expect you are busy at this moment preparing for your busy time at Carol's wedding.

I have just learned that our Colonel has flown to England to-day to visit the War Office and that our Second in command has gone to 21 Army Group Headquarters. We are handing in our guns on Friday instead of the 16th, so perhaps things are on the move.

August 8th

Not a great deal to write about to-day. For once we have been busy, organising our cleaning and packing up of our guns and wireless sets. We think they are to be handed in on Friday, but we cannot be certain. There is a possibility that we may be home in a fortnight, but one can never be certain.

Derek Allen (whom I knew at OCTU) and a Peter Ross (?) have just arrived from Kiel from the 147 Fld. Henry Potter (who went to Antwerp to get some gin) has also just returned.

The talk, of course, is still all of the atomic bomb and its potentialities. What a terrible invention it is. The ordeal of Coventry has nothing in it to compare with Hiroshima. Certainly man's moral powers are now well behind his scientific powers. May the flash of the new bomb be the red light to civilisation and may we be able to cry halt. But there is no real justification from history to suggest that we shall cry halt. H.G. Wells must be feeling very cynical now to see another of his fantastic forecasts coming true.

August 10th

Isn't the news wonderful? The Japanese war is over. I can hardly believe it is true yet, but I am so excited.

We heard the news at about 2 p.m. but I did not hear it myself and am waiting to hear the exact news personally before really believing it is true. But apart from the special announcement we have heard only infuriating short programmes.

At last, we have just heard the American programme which tells us that the Japs are willing to accept the Potsdam surrender terms, providing the Emperor is allowed to remain in power. So it is not quite the end, but virtually. We must accept this offer, it would be folly and criminal to refuse it. If possible we should try and get them to agree that the present emperor abdicate and another take his place but I should be willing to forego this if only for Peace. We cannot go on using Atom bombs, they are too dangerous morally as well as physically to the whole world.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki, may I never forget what they mean. I keep repeating the names to try and realise the stupendous size of the crimes we have committed in the name of Peace and Security. Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The mind is too small to grasp such things else the mere thought of the names would scar our minds. Lidice, Rotterdam, Coventry and Guernika. What tragic names, yet how fortunate in comparison with Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

But for us, for our own small private lives, a new world of happiness is dawning and I cannot wait until we can begin.

And all I can do is sit in this German farm, listening to a jazzy wireless while outside it has been raining in a steady downpour since 6 p.m. yesterday. A miserable day and we have spent it indoors. Yesterday lunchtime we said goodbye to our guns and our armoured carriers. David Benson and John Bartlett are taking them to Hamburg to be stored. They looked very smart in their new coats of paint and very clean as they drove past the Colonel on the outskirts of our village. We seem to have got rid of them just in time.

David and John have just returned from Hamburg. David does not think that the end of the Japanese war will affect the movement of this unit as they will want many troops for the occupation. However, I'm sure the Govt. will alter the demobilising arrangements and prevent men in my group going out.

Last night I went to see a film instead of writing to you, at the Nienburg cinema. "A Song to Remember" which was based on the life of Chopin. I thoroughly enjoyed it and was very glad I did not miss it. Technicolour; Merle Oberon made a very seductive George Sand, but I feel they did not do her character justice. Not that I know much about her, should like to know more about her. Do you know much about her life and her writings? She seems a most fascinating character, possibly because she reminds me of you in many ways.

You ask me to explain Stephen's letter about the mike Target at the Dortmund-Ems canal. It is not easy to explain and nothing that I can be really proud of—you can't feel pride in killing Germans (if I did kill any—I don't know and never shall know).

Targets are given letters according to how many guns fire at the target; M (Mike) = A Regiment = 24.

After the Welsh guards squadron I was with had entered the village of Menslage the enemy withdrew into some farms and woods to the North-East. We could not see them but at first we got a certain amount of rifle fire and machine gun fire from that area. I joined the 3 leading tanks and we were sniped at from some nearby buildings in the next village. After the tanks had silenced the snipers, I got out of my tank and went and saw the Sergeant in charge of the leading infantry section. They were dug in in the grounds of a house at the end of the village and the Sergeant pointed out to me the machine gun nest in the woods and the farms where he saw the Germans retreat into. While I was studying the area through my glasses, the infantry pulled out a sniper from a trench in the field about 15 yards from my slit trench—he could have shot me quite easily!

After studying the area and my map carefully, I ascertained its map reference and ordered the Regiment to fire 3 rounds gun fire (72 shells) at the area. The farms were about 1½ miles from where I was sitting and about 3 miles from the guns (the guns of course were out of sight). The first shells hit the roofs of the farm buildings and all the shells landed in the gardens, in the woods behind and right in the machine gun nest. Normally one is lucky if one gets 10% of the shells on the target at all, certainly not at the very first attempt. Bdr. Meyer, my assistant who was sitting beside me, said it was the best shoot he had seen (he was with Stephen in Normandy and has much experience at the O.P.). The infantry were highly elated and we received no more bullets from that area. Whether I killed any Germans I don't know but it probably frightened them away. Very soon after we were pulled back for a rest while another Tank squadron went forward to capture the next village. My shoot probably helped to make their attack easier, I don't know.

I thought I did mention something about it in my letters in April but I certainly did not give it in so much detail. Anyway, the tank crews did this sort of thing every day, I did it about once. Thank goodness I shall never have to do it again. (Don't get any ideas that it was difficult or dangerous because it was neither).

August 11th

So it is not completely finished yet, the Japanese war. Yet I cannot think the major part of the war will last much longer.

There is not much news to tell. Henry Potter left his morning, am not sorry to see him go. Ron Dorey is coming to spend the week-end here, his own Mess is very dull at the week-ends. He is bringing some hush-hush news, but we may have already heard it!

The rain has stopped at last and it is fairly sunny and warm. I read a whole book yesterday, a light novel called "The Woman with the Fan" by Robert Hitchens, which was quite enjoyable.

5.30 p.m. Ron has arrived but not brought any news that we did not know. He says that all moves are off for the present. Tydeman returned yesterday, I am glad to say. He looks a little thinner after his holiday, but possibly I had forgotten how thin he can appear at times. He spent a part of his leave at Weymouth, liked it very much and wants to go there again.

August 12th

A miserable wet Sunday, showery and now stormy. I have spent all the day indoors, doing a little drawing mainly. I think the fact that I can draw now shows my relief from the fear of fighting again. Although the Japanese war has not ended yet officially, no one here doubts that it is only a matter of hours before it is finished. Even if we are sent to S.E.A.C. there will not be the same dread, but I am quite positive that now I shall not go.

There is already much confusion here. Some of our men in age-groups1–26 were posted to other units not going to S.E.A.C. They left us on Friday and had many "tearful" farewells all round as they were some of our "longest" members of the Battery. However, they came back yesterday as their new units refused to accept them for the time being.

To-morrow the C.O. has decided to have an Officers Rifle Class to make certain that the Rifle drill in the Regiment is standard. So, many officers who have not handled a rifle for years have to do arms drill for 1¼ hours each morning this week! Much to my great disgust. I suppose after this we shall have to instruct the men.

What we are to do with the men in the weeks to come, I do not know. We have no vehicles, no equipment to practise on or to maintain and our resources in this village are very small. We have no direction, either—I suppose the C.O. is equally at a loss to think of things to do.

The regulations for the new stars have just reached us. I see that I am entitled to wear 3, the 1939–45, the France & Germany, and the Defence Medal. We won't receive the ribbons for quite some time, however.

Everybody keeps teasing me here because of my evident relief about not having to go to S.E.A.C. I have never disguised the fact that I loathed going. Now everyone, David and Roy especially, delight in calling me "Burma Beck" and thinking up reasons and arguments why I shall be sent to S.E.A.C! However, it is quite a pleasant raillery and I give as much as I receive.

August 13th

Our C.O. gave us a short talk this afternoon on the situation in the Far East. He explained his reasons why he still thinks it a possibility that this unit will go out there:

1) The clearing up operations over such a wide area will take much longer and be more difficult than in Europe.

2) We shall need large standing armies to protect ourselves from bandits and pirates, etc., for some time to come.

3) The British have lost "face" and will only regain it by a show of force, including guns, to the local native populations.

Despite the C.O.'s talk, the majority of us remain convinced that we shall not go, certainly not the men in age-groups 27–30! Anyway, nothing has happened to alter my optimistic feelings. If only these negotiations didn't take so much time. Why can't they say yes or no unequivocally and quickly, especially as the war still continues.

Our marching drill went off fairly well this morning, but it is a most "infra dig" performance with amused Germans looking on with delighted grins! I shall be very thankful when this week is over.

To-morrow we are having a short visit from the General of our Division, which means more spit and polish. Oh dear! I'm not a peace-time soldier.

I am going to a film to-night, to see Canterbury Tales, I hope.

August 14th

I expect you, too, are listening to this disappointing news broadcast, about the delay in the Jap. reply. By the time you receive this letter, the final announcement will have been made, I hope. These alternate optimistic and pessimistic reports are most bewildering and annoying, but I cannot think that the Japanese will refuse. In fact, I am still optimistic, and not giving up hope.

Your letter written last Friday when you first heard the news arrived to-day. I can read that you were as excited as I was, the news was almost too good to be true.

It has been a wet, miserable afternoon (since 12 noon). We were to play cricket but the weather and the ground make it impossible. We had a visit from the General 51 Divn. this afternoon who came to see our billets. Very pleasant and easy to talk to.

Our rifle drill went off quite well again, but I still cannot reconcile myself to it.

Last evening we went to see a film "Canterbury Tale" in Verden. It was quite interesting and quite enjoyable, but the story was too thin to call it a good film. Also I am not keen on hearing American and English spoken together, you become too conscious of the twang. The story was about an American soldier's discovery of the Kentish countryside and the Pilgrims Way to Canterbury. It had some interesting photographs of Kent and Canterbury and having just seen Canterbury they were even more interesting. But the story centred around a J.P. who was passionately in love with the history of his surroundings and the countryside and who wanted to explain his passion to the soldiers barracked near his village. He was afraid girls, and especially land girls, would prove too big a counter-attraction to his lectures, so he tries to frighten them all away by dropping glue on their hair in the black-out! How an intelligent J.P. could stoop to such practices is very hard to imagine and for that reason the film did not inspire me.

There is very little news. We are going to concentrate on sport in the next few weeks and hold a Sports Gala and competition between the Troops. There is no work to be done and no training.

August 15th. V.J. DAY

It really is true at last, and we can relax now. It is a great relief and I'm sure you are as happy as I am that there is no more fighting for the first time in 14 years. Now we can look forward to a future together and it is going to be heavenly. I cannot wait very patiently, I'm afraid, and this next period is going to be very trying all round. The King's Speech to-day did not foreshadow any rapid demob. talking about "continuing with the orderly demobilisation as already planned". But that does not dash my hopes of being demobilised much earlier than we had anticipated.

We are not in much of a position to celebrate here, and we still performed our rifle drill this morning as usual. I made quite a lot of mistakes and made quite a fool of myself but as many other officers were also making mistakes I wasn't very worried. Personally I don't think I did too badly considering it was my first attempt. However, I'm not very worried as rifle drill, etc., is not one of the things I care about or care to shine in. But these Regimental duties are going to be terribly boring and annoying. "Peace-time soldiering" is not my ideal way of existing. If I learn that this Regiment is going to do occupational duties I am going to try and get some office work or administrative job. I really cannot stand the waste of time doing sentry-go duties, etc.

The men are having a free day to-day and Sport arranged for to-morrow. We have our rifle drill again to-morrow. This afternoon I took advantage of a short spell of sunshine to have a swim in the canal with John Bartlett, Derek Allen and Peter Rolles. We had a short trip in a rowing boat with "home-made" oars and rudder and I had a swim with a life-buoy. Otherwise the day has been quite uneventful. Oh, yes, I did go to Nienburg this morning to enquire at the Welfare Office about one of our batmen, whose wife has been ordered to get out of their house by Sept. 23rd. The owner wants to sell the house, but does not want to live in it himself. The man lives in Rochester, Kent.

I have now completed 5 drawings. Must do some "logic" again, otherwise I shall forget what I have learned.


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