Tuesday, 20 April 2010

A visit to see a famous radio personality and more adventures in Leeds

Friday 26th April

My Dearest Mum and Dad

Here goes, & I shouldn’t be surprised if this is going to be a long letter. It contains nearly a week’s review & also answers, I think, six letters of yours. You mustn’t mind me collecting all these before replying, as I can’t help receiving them and not replying.

Let me see now. I think I left you on Sat. afternoon having had a bathe in the swimming baths. Well, after tea I went out & bought those photos of Becketts Park, went down to the YMCA & finished your letter, sent postcards off to Eric & Len & later on went round to the Soldiers Rest where I had a wee supper (The place is like the YMCA in function) came out & discovered I had left my respirator in the YMCA so I hurried round but found it had closed for the night as the time was now 10.45p.m. However a chap lent me his respirator to report back with, & I duly retrieved mine on Sunday afternoon. On Sat and Sun we are allowed out till 12 p.m.

Sunday morning we had church parade & the Padre took the service. I’ll describe the service as I described it to Iris.

The organ played before the service, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Sweetest Name I know, Fills my every longing, keeps me singing as I go”. “O for the Wings of a Dove”. “We would see Jesus” & a church voluntary.

The hymns were “Soldiers of Christ Arise” “Be thou my guardian and my guide” & some other hymn which I’ve forgotten. The Psalm was 46. Before the sermon a male vocalist rendered, “If with all your hearts ye truly seek him”.

The sermon was excellent & was about he houses that were built, one on sand & the other on the rock. The main points are obvious, & he explained them very well to my mind.

And as the daffodils had reappeared, in the vases beside the wooden cross, the service reminded me of the first one that I attended.

In the afternoon we had our little time together, but as a good number of chaps were on week-end leave, there wasn’t a large number present. But still we had a good time. Directly this had finished, I went into Leeds for my g-mask & got back in time for tea.

In the evening, & this Dad can tell Mr. Nightingale, I went to Headingley Methodist Church on the occasion of children’s Anniversary to hear Romany. I learned later that he had lectured there on Saturday evening & being an extraordinarily clever lightning artist had illustrated his lecture by making sketches. I wish I had known beforehand as I might have been able to work a visit in.

The church was packed long before the service began & chairs had to be brought in. As a matter of fact, I arrived in good time, abt 15 mins early, & yet could only secure a rotten seat where the vision of the speaker was almost shut out by a pillar supporting the gallery. Still, I got several short glimpses of Romany & will describe him to you as best, as I can. He stands a fairly good height, abt 5ft 11in to 6ft I should say, & wore on this occasion a grey suit which reminded me of my best one. He has a striking appearance & one can detect the Gypsy strain. He has deep, lustrous eyes, & dark lean features. But the part I like best is his great tangled stock of raven hair which reveals him as a poet straight away. He is going bald now, but only slightly.

His language is beautiful & flashed with gems of nature illustrations & exquisite imagery.

Here are a few things which he said in the opening prayer.

“We can never look upon a good thing & be the same again”.

“There is no Geography with God. Whether we are in Norway or in France it is all the same. We are all in the hollow of his hand”.

“Nothing is worth anything unless it is given away; not because it is worthless but because it is priceless. If you could buy it, you can’t” etc

Then in his address he spoke of the way in which men seek happiness. The way of Business & so on. Then he spoke of The Way & said after describing the narrowness & difficulties of that way “and so we journey on, and do we find happiness? No”. Of course everyone felt rather startled. But then he added “No , we don’t find happiness, but that happiness finds us”. And then he elaborated on that theme in a way that it would be foolish for me to try & replicate. His text was from the first Psalm, “And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water”. He, being the happy man, who is mentioned in the first verse.

It was a lovely sermon & altogether a memorable occasion. His knowledge & interpretation of Nature is really wonderful and I am wondering if he has written any books along this line, as they would be worth reading.

The service over, I stayed to a little meeting arranged for the troops at which somebody sand “Bless this house”, & there were some violin solos etc. So Sunday came to a close.

Monday evening I went to the News Theatre for my weekly relaxation & saw pictures of the German Invasion of Denmark, a film of the French troops, one of the Pottery Industry, another of the Australian Life-Savers & small Australian Sailing Craft & a comic strip.

On Tuesday evening I went with Ken Ballisat to Fuller’s Café, Bond St, Leeds & heard Bryan Green & Howard Guinness speak. I’m enclosing an invitation card, which has got a bit grubby. It was very interesting to listen to them though between them they spoke for 2hrs. The audience was of the University type & was quite large. Bryan Green you know is the chap who speaks on the Wireless quite often. Today, if you read the Daily Telegraph you’d read the report of the marriage of the Queen’s niece, the Hon – Bowes Lyon at Holy Trinity, Brompton & the Rev. Bryan Green officiated. So he wasn’t present at the Thursday meeting in Leeds.

Weds I couldn’t go out as I was put on Cook-house fatigue very unexpectedly so Ken went alone. I spent some of time afterwards in continuing a letter to Iris, a letter which owing to the little time available each day for writing, I didn’t send off the letter until yesterday Thursday, though it was started Tuesday. There was a concert here on Weds but I didn’t go, though I heard that it was very good, with conjuring & so on.

Thursday evening I went down to the Headingley Post Office & bought some stamps posted your post-card & the letter to Iris. Coming back I watched a football match for ¼ hour then went in late to the film show in our Main Hall, which didn’t last very long. There was a film of Princess Mary (Royal) inspecting our A.T.S. She was, by the way, dressed like they. Also a film of our Church Parade. I must have been on there, but of course everything passes so quickly, & with 1000 men on parade, it’s hard to pick yourself out. A couple of medical films, one on sterilization, the other on the heart, a Pop-eye comic & a Mickey Mouse. Tell Joan that the Mickey Mouse film was the same one that we saw at Page’s Garage in the Morris show, with Donald Duck reciting “Little Boy Blue, Come blow on your horn” at Mickey Mouse’s Orphans’ Party.

The last film was a news review of 1938. Rather late, what? It was amusing though sad to see Chamberlain on his return from Munich holding aloft the paper, “No war for 25 years”.

Tonight Friday I’m staying in writing to you. I’m afraid that you won’t get this letter until Monday, after all. Never min, dear, I do write long letters when I do get going, don’t I?

Tomorrow morning I get another tetanus inoculation. There is no sick-leave as it is painless in its after effects.

Your letter written last Thursday, by the way, I only received this Tuesday evening, but the letter written on Friday I received on Monday. Queer world, isn’t it?

Those Elim fellows are C.O’s as you thought. I haven’t been able to see them lately, unfortunately. Ken Ballisat hasn’t been out to tea with me. I’ve only been out twice myself though I’ve been asked on several occasions to go to this & that home for tea. But dear, where’s the chance? I simply can’t find the time, with everything crying out to be done. Ken was at the `Romany’ service on Sunday. He attends all of our meetings at Becketts Park, but doesn’t go to the Brethren, as he prefers C of E.

It’s very nice of Mr Compton to recommend Derek like he did. You’ll tell me how he gets on, won’t you? I’m glad, too to know that Mr Cross is not so cross when it come to conscientious objectors.

I suppose by now that you’ve found out what was wrong with Mr Littlewood. Do please let me know.

I’m returning Joan Rose’s photos which I think are grand.

Re. my photos I ordered 6 & the one enlargement. Total cost 4/6. I hope that 6 will do instead of 9. (P.S. I believe I ordered 12 after all).

Re. Lord Haw-Haw. I had heard several times that Colchester had been bombed & destroyed, but living in Colchester I didn’t quite believe the stories.

You needn’t worry about me wearing the summer dress. For one thing the trousers are a little too long in the leg & for another the weather has been most extraordinary these last few days. Just two or three days ago it turned remarkably hot from extreme cold & at the moment of writing there is a terrific overhead thunderstorm which is making the whole building tremble.

It’s now Saturday afternoon & I’ve just come back from the second tetanus inoculation. This morning we had another medical list and were re-graded. I came out again as A1.

As I said before when I leave here, I haven’t the faintest idea as to where I shall be sent anywhere in England or abroad for that matter, & as for further training, the only kind we haven’t had is the actual practical training with real cases, but as far as the theory is concerned, we’ve been taught all that anyone would ever want to know without specialised training in any special branch of the medical work. As I’ve explained before the grass hasn’t been growing under our feet & the ground covered would astonish you. But I do hope that I shall be moved nearer home.

I think that Pansy is bearing up wonderfully considering her sorrows. Tell her that she needn’t worry about the insurance of the furniture whilst stored at Joslin’s, as it’s covered against everything. I too, will be glad when she has settled down once & for all. She deserves it, poor girl.

I should think that Dick could kick himself for being such a fool as to join voluntarily, especially as he would have been exempt. Did he ask Joan’s advice & permission?

Re. money bag, I didn’t wear it round the neck after the first week or so for the very good reason that I was changing into P.T. kit & so on & as we are only allowed two minutes in which to change, on can’t very well stop to think where to put it for safety whilst I’m away. So I keep it in my back trousers pocket now, & when I want any money it’s easier to get hold of, & handier to lock it away when I leave my trousers in my room. Don’t please think that it’s no use. It’s very handy on the contrary, & cannot be missed or lost like a leather purse or wallet.

So you heard the gunfire from the Thames Estuary. What a pity you heard it so loudly & were so frightened. I don’t hear any guns here, but I think this present thunder is making more noise than gunfire.

Won’t Bubbles & Wilfred feel proud of themselves now? I’m glad that they’re settled at last & that they have such a splendid wedding to look back upon. They seem to be making a big splash with the honeymoon at Bournemouth. I wonder where they are going to live.

Tell Joan not to worry about writing as it doesn’t matter for I fully understand all that she has to do, & writing is no end of a fag (sometimes). I’m glad she liked that card, or rather the sentiment.

If the girls feel like they would like to join up to see if they can get a lot of lovely parcels, they can try the A.T.S. but I hope that they won’t waddle the same as most of these girls.

My thigh is O.K. And arm, for that matter, The medical work is very interesting.

I think Mr. Boyden is a dear man behind his sometimes dignified exterior. It was so kind of him to think about Pansy like that. All the same it doesn’t speak much for the other teachers at the Mission. The next thing would appear to be that the Mission people will have to buy Mr Boyden is a new suit. Perhaps all his money I tied up in `Defence Bonds’.

Concerning the cartoon you sent me of Musso called `Doubtful Attitude’, I think that the question, “What do you think of Musso’s parents” is a doubtful question. The thing is, what does Musso think of them, & is the shape of the ?? the shape of Things to Come? As a Revelation Frog, he appears to be poised for the jump.

I fully understand how difficult Steph must have found things now that there will be such a rise in prices. Also the newness of the job & her natural reserve. I hope that she’ll grow to like the job, as I’m sure se really will when se has been there a little while. The job must be interesting, I know.

The Sunrise Demonstration with Jenny co-starring with Howard must have been a special treat for you. Jenny seems destined to follow in your melodious wake.

Re. the increase in postage, if you like you can send me a letter every other day, as I’m sure that 2 ½ d is too much to pay. I shall try & retrench, but where, I don’t know. All I know is that prices are ruinous & having a pre-war mind, I think that everything isn’t worth half of the price demanded.

Thanks for sending me Tommy’s letter. I’m returning it herewith, & would say that I’m thankful that he is making the best of things where he is, & seems to be quite cheerful. I trust that he can see the Hand of the Lord in the altered circumstances of his life as much as he hopes you can see it in my case.

The Jews meeting must have been disappointing for you with your sensitive mind. It is terrible, I know to hear about such wicked persecutions, but we can’t close our eyes to them, & realising the truth of it, we get interesting insights into our delightfully Christian Nazi friends.

You didn’t spell Ideology write (This is how you spelt right when you wrote the question. However, we all make mistake, that is when we write quickly, as we do.

It must be a relief to you for Mary to be recovered from G.Measles. One trial less, anyway. Mary must be glad, also.

I was sorry to hear about Suzanne. She does seem to be always falling down & bashing her head. The poor little mite, how careful Iris must be with her to prevent a recurrence.

I was ever so pleased to hear from dear old Dad. I’ll try & answer his letter tomorrow. The same goes for Iris B. Pansy & Mary.

And now dears, I wish you every blessing until I can write again, & better still, until I see you again when I have my leave. The blessing of God be upon you both.

Your ever loving Son

John xxxxxx


How sad to learn of the unfortunate circumstances of Mr Dennis’ death. He was a man who always looked at noble ideals & made them his own. I hold him in reverent memory for his helpful messages, & Colchester is poorer by his passing.

Friday, 16 April 2010

16th April 1940

Leeds 6
16th April 1940

My Dearest Mum & Dad & others,

The letter I received from you today written on Sunday is just about as gloomy as the weather. It was snowing yesterday, also a wee bit the day before, but this morning we have had the real thing and no mistake. I’ve never seen such large flakes before & though the blizzards only last about an hour at a time, when it does come down you can hardly see anything else. I don’t know whether you are having the same weather at home but if so, my sympathy is with you.

I’m so sorry about the Baby proving such trouble. As if there wasn’t enough trouble about without that extra contribution. You do seem to be in the thick of it all, but so was Job, so keep on praising Mother dear.

I gather that Pansy is at last coming round to the view that I’ve so often expressed. If possible it’s wiser to wait about two years before starting a family, don’t you think, though of course I quite realise that circumstances alter cases, & there are circumstances in which it might be desirable to start earlier. However I don’t think I had better say any more in case I put my foot into it.

It’s news to me about Miriam. All I hope is that the baby won’t have T.B. which I believe Mim has got.

Yes, dear, Mr Sainsbury sent me some pocket testaments to distribute to enquiring fellows to whom they will prove helpful. I see that you guessed that the Testaments were in the parcel. I didn’t know that he was going on a holiday, & I suppose that he didn’t receive my letter until a few days later than he would have done. Which means that I needn’t have given his letter priority after all.

You might have known that I did not write to Iris last week, although I received a letter from her at the beginning of the week & another towards the end. I had to answer both of them in one letter which I sent off either Sunday or Monday of this week.

Today I received my summer dress consisting of a pair of trousers & a jacket, the style exactly like the ordinary battle dress. They are in Khaki & much lighter in weight, also a wee bit lighter in colour. I haven’t put them on yet, so I don’t know whether they will require alteration.

Last night after I had written to you, I went over to the Toc H room to post your letter. This was the second time since I’ve been here that I’ve been in the Toc H room, incidentally. When I got there I saw Ken Ballisat, so we went together to his room & there he told me that as he makes an allowance to his mother he only gets 5/- one week and 7/- the next. This came out when I asked him to go to Leeds with me for a change as we had not been together since going to St. Chad’s that Sunday evening. He said that he couldn’t afford to go out and when I asked him why, he told me the reason.

So I arranged with him to go out tonight as a little treat, especially as I think that he has only been to Leeds about once before.

Unfortunately we couldn’t go at the time we had agreed upon, as my section was suddenly called upon to wash all the dining hall tables & forms down & clear up the dining hall. This took us an hour and a half so I wasn’t free until 7.20p.m. Then we go away & I took him to the News Theatre which he enjoyed very much. We saw pictures of Norway with reference to the German invasion so you see that it was up-to-date. Another picture was on Archery, another on the Industrial Revolution and how the English countryside has been changed for ever. Yet another was called “A Lady’s Day Out”, which showed a young riding mistress taking a small party for a tour on horseback with two dogs, one of which was a Golden Retriever. Every time I looked at it, I thought of Sadie who is a dead image of that dog. It used to roam about on its own, and took a lively interest in everything it saw, in consequence of which it got lost & its mistress had to ride back to find it, which she did eventually. But you would have liked to have seen it, for the dog was so intelligent & alert, & your heart would have melted to see the dog running as hard as it could when it knew it was lost. It was all very sweet & the scenery was perfect.

And now another day has passed & there is a rumour about that Italy has entered into the War against the Allies. If this is true, I am the last person to be surprised, for I have been prophesying this for years in face of very strong opinions to the contrary & my views are at last (though very very unfortunately) vindicated. I wonder how the war will take shape. Everything is so uncertain except the certainty that God still reigns in the Heavens though not in the earth. So we mustn’t get depressed but hope on & trust in God FOR EVERYTHING. Just keep on thinking of the Eternal Glories which gleam afar to nerve our faint endeavour, and nothing on Earth can make us lose faith or separate us from the love of God.

To get down to private matters, how unfortunate to have Mary down with G. Measles. Just one more boil, so to speak.

I’m glad my clothes arrived safely. If you had seen the hundreds of pieces of string & odd bits of paper that I had to use it would seem very wonderful to you that the parcels were intact on arrival. Thanks for putting them away, also for cycle things stored away.

My company pay out quite well regarding money. I get 12/6 every week which is more than sufficient for my needs. Some companies pay out less than this, but I suppose, save more for the fellows.

Yes, one of the Poetry Books was for a fellow at the Brethren. The other for the University chap in my section. By the way, I believe I told you that I was going out Wednesday. Well, the other Brethren chaps have gone, but I haven’t gone after all as I feel rather tired & want to finish the letter. I shall probably get to the Bible Study tomorrow.

Regarding going into Leeds alone, you must realise that at the most, I only see my Christian friends once a week, apart from Sundays. And then I see a few of them by accident. The trouble is my dear that we have no time to arrange going out together. Where do you think that the time is coming from? I might be able to see a bit of them if I didn’t write letters, but I see that you still don’t quite realise the very few opportunities that we have for even taking a deep breath. And then of course, we are all in different companies, & again we are in different sections so the chances of seeing each other apart from Saturday afternoon & Sunday afternoon onwards are pretty remote.

I don’t know what I shall do, or where I shall go when I leave here. I may be a hospital orderly, maybe in an operating theatre, maybe a stretcher bearer & first aid man. There are hundreds of things that I might be, so it’s no use guessing.

And now to talk about the sad news. It came as an awful shock to me to read about poor Tommy. In fact I am dumbfounded. You needn’t think that he necessarily cheeked a superior officer. Some of the fellows in the army if they took a dislike to anyone, could queer his pitch for good & get him sent to the `Glasshouse’. It’s very easily done & often done, & there’s no justice & no appeal. I can just imagine poor Tommy’s feelings as he makes his way to the front. We all make mistakes & how dearly we have to pay for them God alone knows. It’s far worse when we are punished unjustly as Tommy might have been.

But I’m sorrier still for Pansy. She has enough to bear without that. All I can say is that all our lives are in the Hands of God, & being there, we can rest in the knowledge that He in love will cause all things to work for our good. He knows, He loves, He cares, our burdens Jesus bears, whate’er betide, He’s by my side, He knows, He loves, He cares. Whate’er betide! What a testing for our faith this is, but what a great opportunity to glorify God in affliction & quit ourselves like the Heirs of Salvation.

So to all of you from your own John I would say, “Don’t let the Devil get you down. Don’t look down. Bear up & look up for your Redemption draweth nigh”. For aren’t the sunbeams gathering on God’s side of cloud for that wonderful dawning of Eternal Day? Oh, if only God would give us larger eyes to perceive the gentle mercy of the Lord, we shouldn’t be so anxious about the wrath of man. Oh that we might get up & plant our feet on higher ground & see visions of the Everlasting Kingdom & the Coming King. May God grant us these things for His Glory.

And now, dear ones, I must leave you content in the love which never lets us go. A big X for all of you especially Pansy.

Your devoted son & brother

John xxxxxxx

Thursday, 15 April 2010

6th April 1940

6th April 1940

Dear Mum and Dad

I feel very happy as I’ve had a glorious afternoon & evening out. Last Thursday I went to the Brethren as arranged, & attended the prayer meeting & Bible study afterwards. We had quite a nice time discussing `Suffering’ & the subject is going to be continued next Thursday.

Another soldier besides Walter and myself was present named Alfred Jones from “B” Coy & the Yarmouth Brethren, and after the meeting we received two invitations to tea. Walter had a prior invitation to tea today so Alf & myself went along together to a Mr Daisley (or some such name) & we’ve had a spanking good time. We arrived about 4p.m. at his home & the door was opened by man with a bald head & the nearest description I can give is to say that he was a cross between Dr. Beattie & Mr Sanders of Coggeshall. He made us welcome and I can honestly say that he’s one of the finest men I know. We got talking on spiritual things straight away. He was converted at 14 yrs of age & has an immense knowledge of the scriptures & while he was illustrating his points by stories we listened enthralled. His voice was soothing, his face pleasant, his tongue fluent & his mind was nothing short of superb.

He told us that he often moves among the Jews and often stands preaching to them & singing, “How sweet the Name of Jesus sounds” etc. All on his own, strongly reminding me of Mr Bardsley. The Jews often come up and ask questions, & afterwards shake hands with him. I can realise how well he can do all this, as he is never non plussed for an answer & can quote any part of the Bible in a most amazing way.

During the afternoon his wife & daughter came in. Mr & Mrs are both I should say 50-60, the man being slightly older. Soon afterwards we took a walk to his allotment on which his son works (sometimes). On returning we were introduced to his son who is the dead spit of Uncle Frank, & a friend of the daughter who is a school teacher. In fact I believe they both are. We had a lovely tea & you can guess what a change it was to have serviettes & saucers under our cups & dainty cress & ham sandwiches etc. We had a good tuck in and enjoyed it very much. Then we returned to the drawing room & for about 2hrs we sang round the piano with the son playing. These people are almost like us for the number of hymn books they’ve got. New Poems of Song, Alexander’s 3, Sundays Dillons Choruses, McEwans, Negro Quintet Songs, Celestial Songs, Golden Bells etc.

When we had finished we had another little chat about the Second Coming etc, & as I hadn’t given in a pass & had to be in by 9.30p.m., we had to leave. If I had given a pass, we could have been out till 11.55p.m. So we had some cocoa and a couple of buns each & said goodbye.

I’ve just received you gorgeous parcels and cannot thank you enough for the lovely contents. I can’t write to you all separately so will you please thank everyone who contributed very much, & tell them I look forward to a lot of happy moments tucking in. As a matter of fact I’ve already started weighing in & that’s the fact of practical application, which doesn’t need explanation.

The fellows in my room are very envious but I give them something to taste & that satisfies them. I’ve already given them an iced bun each, also Kenneth B. who has just been here on a visit. It’s now 1p.m. Sunday. When I write a letter like this I have to break off every five minutes or so & start again when I get time, so if my letters seem at all disjointed now & again, you will know the reason why. To return those fellows think that your buns are very nice. I’m leaving Dad’ chocs to last, as it’s such a substantial slab. Thank everyone too, won’t you, who wrote me a little note as well. Re. these tins, I shall keep them but as I’m so hard up for room & the Army won’t let you keep surplus kit. The little case I have to stow in my Kitbag, also all paper etc & books that I shall probably parcel some of my civilian clothes in brown paper & send them home leaving the big case here in which to pack my overflowing stock & these tins. So don’t be surprised if you find a parcel or so arriving home.

For you, mum dear, accept my great thanks for you kind words & loving thoughts. The pads & envelopes will come in very useful. You will be glad to know that the cakes arrived in perfect condition & everything in both parcels was top-hole. You’ve got some good packers among you.

I was very disappointed with the Service this morning. As I told you, the Padre has just been married, so another clergyman took the service & was absolutely rotten. Nobody liked him at all & his address was more political than religious. Thank goodness that the Padre will be back next week. At 2 o’clock this afternoon we have our little Bible Study with Walter & Alf Jones & perhaps a few more. Then I’m going with these two to tea at Mr & Mrs Davies, also Brethren people. The lady was present at one of Morris & Levetts tent meeting at W. Mersea & is a very charming person about 50 yrs old I should say. Afterwards we shall go to the Brethren, & return here by 8.30 for our Discussion meeting on `Spiritual Issues of the War’. So my day as you see is fairly full.

Re the Orderly Corporals work, we all have to take turns as Night Messenger & if the Sergeant or Corporal who acts as Night Orderly Sergeant wants to take things easy it naturally makes things harder for the Messenger. Nevertheless I had to do no more than anyone else has probably done.

Walter has given me his `Witness’. I share the Christian Herald with Kenneth the Salvationist, who contrary to what I had been told is a fine Christian & is very unselfish. The gave me 4 1 ½ d stamps & wouldn’t let me pay for them as he said he’d been given 2 2/- books of stamps from home.

Walter hasn’t heard the Goodman Bros. as in the Isle of Wight they don’t get many speakers from the mainland. You speak of Kenneth as though he only read, “well shall we say his Christian books”. He reads his Bible a lot you know, & makes ever so many notes. It was his bible which caught my eyes first when I visited his room that time.

Derek wrote me a nice letter, received yesterday.
Dear Mr Baker I remember very well. What a lovely passing he had. Joan’s pram is posh. I hope Faith is getting better. Re. your letters dear, there’s no need to make them shorter as I have time to read them at dinner when they are given up. The trouble is to get time to write to you, or anyone else.

The boys in my room are not C.O.s. Nearly all the C.O.’s I know are Christians. The fact is that most of the fellows here have been sent because the R.A.M.C. needed more men. Some of them wish they had been sent to an infantry reg! Of course you musn’t think all the chaps are like that. I’ve been finding out a lot of Christians lately & it’s simply great to know that they’ve got a real experience.

It’s now Sunday evening. This afternoon we had our Bible Study on Revelations, & 14 fellows were present. C of Es, Methodists, Elim Foursquares, Baptists etc. & of course Brethren Exclusive & Plymouth. One of the Baptists belongs to Bamber’s Church in Peckham. We had a lovely time, introducing our names, places from which we came, & denomination. “All are in Christ”. We shall hold this meeting every week, & it’s good to see everybody reading their bibles. A few chaps started interrupting, but they soon desisted. A corporal and sergeant looked in & said that it was quite O.K. The other Baptist fellow is a fine Christian & I’ll tell you something about him D.V. next week.

We went to tea at the Davies & had an enjoyable time. The family is very clever. The man knows languages & is a voracious reader, especially of Bible commentaries etc & has a fine library. The sons too are very nice & talented like the father in drawing etc.

We had a nice meeting at the Brethren. There were 11 soldiers present; a lot of them I didn’t know. So every meeting I go to I find more Christians. There was a fellow there who came from Tiptree. Wasn’t it curious? He should have come from Colchester with Walter, though they hadn’t met before, but knew they were going to the same place. He was telling me all this & Walter was standing next to him & he didn’t know it!. So of course they soon got talking. That was after the meeting.

A Mr George Grant spoke, a very powerful Gospel message on `Choose ye this day whom ye will serve’ & spoke of the Individuality of the message, its urgency & its outcome. He spoke without notes, & made a strong appeal though only in his message & not after, which was all to the good. His stories & manner of speaking were just what are needed in gospel work & all enjoyed him very much or rather his wonderful message. Then a short prayer meeting, & Walter & another fellow went back to Becketts Park as Walter was to be the chief speaker at the discussion meeting tonight. The rest of us went to the Open Air, outside Leeds Town Hall with about 20 or so of the Brethren. We had an audience of about 50 standing round besides ourselves & those passing by. There were 4 speakers in all & I was one of them. As I soon as I mounted the box, I saw a policeman dashing into the Town Hall. I’m not sure whether it’s legal to speak to an audience in public, in uniform. I spoke for about 10 minutes & they didn’t come out to arrest me so I should think I’m O.K. After the meeting about a dozen people came forward for gospel booklets etc. & after shaking hands with the Brethren people, I came away with Alf Jones & returned to Becketts Park. There are, by the way, abt. 35 parks in Leeds. Another item of information is that their Lewis’s stores about I told somebody cost 1 million pounds, the site alone costing £100,000. Some store! This afternoon on the way to tea, we visited Kirkstall Abbey, some ruins built in 1147 A.D. They are in a wonderful state & cover a large area. There’s no end to see there, as the Abbey is so high & most walls are standing with cloisters, quadrangles etc.

Well my two dears that’s enough for now. God bless you both abundantly for your goodness to me, With love, John xxxx

I see that I’ve still got a few things to say. One is that I’m sorry that this letter is so late. I think you would rather have a long letter than little short ones, wouldn’t you? It’s more economical, too.

Would you please send on 2 of my books (poetry) from Finchams & deduct the money from what I left with you.

I’m glad that you’ve told Joan Drane (or Rose) that she can stay at ours. She’s apparently had a tough time of it. I always knew there was something wrong with her, poor thing. You are welcome to my room.

If baby is another Dick, has he a long neck? You will have to send on a photo when you get one taken of him. Of course I can quite see that he looks pathetic, tell Joan, if he really is like D. I shouldn’t weep about it though. But there’s something very helpless about babies all the same, like a drooping moustache over a weak chin.

I’m looking forward with watering mouth to that cake you speak about.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

31st March 1940

My Dear Mum and Dad Sunday
31sr Mar ‘40

As you will realise, I have finished the writing pad in my case, and am now using this pad which only cost me 6d at our N.A.A.F.I. The pads which you are sending on will be very welcome.

Also if you don’t mind, you can send me a cake or a few buns as I think that I can now with some as we only get cake on a Sunday.

I have been very busy these last few days & have been unable to write any letters at all. On Thursday night I was company messenger, the time for duty being 5-10.30p.m. I was under the Night Orderly Sergeant (who incidentally was a Lance-Corporal) and had to write down the passes for men leaving barracks for the evening, then checking them in on their return, and seeing that they were sober & properly dressed. I also had to light a fire. Then in the morning I had to clean out the Company Sergeant Major’s room, clean the grate and light his fire, the clear out the ash & so on from the grate in the Dining Hall, & afterwards go over to the Guard House with the Absentee report. Then back again and my period of 4 days Dining Hall fatigue began, serving out the plates etc etc & clearing up the place afterwards. We are on duty for this at breakfast, dinner and tea and have to manage our own meals as best we can. There are six of us acting as Mess Orderlies in our Dining Hall. Then of course there are cooks, Kitchen orderlies and so forth.

Well, as you know, we were supposed to have our inoculation on Friday, whereas it was postponed till Saturday midday. I felt the injection, but strangely enough, have had no pain at all to speak of, and am enjoying the 36 hrs sick leave. The fly in the ointment was that we were not allowed out on Sat p.m. and all day today have been confined to barracks, so I’ve been to no service. I’m arranging D.V. to go to the Bible Study at the Brethren on Thursday evening with Walter Stotesbury, so that will compensate somewhat. This evening in the main building we have had a little discussion on the Spiritual Issues of the War. Walter came with another Christian boy from his section named, I believe, Ronnie, and besides myself there were the Padre, Kenneth Balisat & a friend of his named Norman. This Walter by the way is a C.O. & in every possible way a splendid Christian with a very fine knowledge of the Bible. I’m so glad that I’ve met him. You will like to know, too, that when I went to Kenneth’s room to see him before the discussion (he had gone into my building to look for me) I found lying over his bed, his bible, and several Christian books. As other fellows were there, you can see that he is not ashamed of being a Christian, and very sincere.

We had quite a good discussion without anything extraordinary being said, but Walter & I several times quoted texts to prove our points and to stress the fundamental need for salvation. The Padre is getting spliced next week-end, & though a decent fellow, dwells I believe a bit too much on Works & not enough on conviction of sin.

On Friday evening we had a little film show here, dealing with medical stuff like bacteria (3 sorts) & Blood cells. They put on another film to finish with, starring Deanna Durbia. You may remember her voice singing on he Wireless. I came out however & I went to bed. The film apparatus was first class but the `talkie’ sound system was muffled & very difficult to understand. It’s the first time, I think, that this has gone wrong. 3 shows a month, I believe is the usual order.

Well, we have had more lectures. The trouble is that they are too intensive & as we have no time of our own to study them up, they tend to become forgotten during drill etc. There are absolutely hundreds of queer names to remember, functions & s on to get the low-down on. If we did nothing else but medical stuff here, I’m sure that we should get on well, but these other duties put the Kybosh on it.

I understand however that directly our 2 mths are done, we have no more infantry drill at all. The chief object of it is to smarten us up. We now have a lance-corporal for our section commander, not the one which we could not understand, but another fellow named Cox, who used to play for Burnley at football. We have here, by the way, champions of all sorts of things, internationals & cup finalists. So you see that I’m in good company.

And now to answer your letters. Isn’t it amazing to think that the love gifts amounted to over twenty three pounds? It makes it very difficult to beat when next Good Friday comes along.

Wouldn’t it be just lovely if the Rev. Reece Howells turned out to be right, and the war were to end by Whitsun. I still can’t see how things can do anything but fizzle out. Everybody in this war is too strong & still afraid, and things look like an impasse.

How very queer to hear about Dr Bolton. He sounds barmy, & it makes you wonder who the next will be. It doesn’t seem to pay to be over clever. There’s no chance of my being shot, so I should remain sane. All the same it’s very sad, & I hope the man will recover.

I was surprised to learn about the snow covering the ground. Although we have had a kind of snow, it never looked like settling, & it soon passed over. You must be getting worse weather down south.

No, I don’t require a pillow case, as I’m not very particular as to what I sleep on. The straw is in a calico case, & that’s good enough for me.

Kenneth smokes a pipe occasionally, but doesn’t drink or swear. I have written to Derek.

I think it’s a shame that the Bryants haven’t seen Joan. Perhaps they have by now, but they certainly are a selfish lot. Maybe they are upset because they weren’t consulted, or because the baby was born too early to satisfy their minds. Anyhow it doesn’t matter, as you say, for we shall always have each other dear, and nothing else matters at all, especially as we know the Friend who never disappoints.

The buns in the tuck box weren’t at all stale, & the contents lasted me all through the week, & that’s saying something with my prodigious appetite. Thanks very, very much dear.

It’s kind of Iris to send me the Standard. I have cut out 2 pieces to send to Iris E. One was about an evacuee kiddy staying at Mrs Pavey’s (Ida’s mother) & the other was abt a black-out fatality of Fred Waller’s father. Fred you will remember being Len Chatters red-faced friend.

I have just finished the first book I took out from the library & started on the second. As the first one was only a Penguin you will see that I haven’t been able to spend much time reading. These books should have been returned last Thursday.

I hope that the pram shed is now firmly established. The Garden must now be nearly all sheds, which leaves you precious little space for your washing. It was nice though of course only proper, for Dick to help Dad in making it. I’m glad he’s proud of the `Squeaker’, and he seems to be unusually kind & thoughtful. It may be the making rather the bringing out of him. I guess Joan has her hands full with bathing baby etc. Does he cry much or does he follow in his Uncle’s steps? And is Sadie very jealous of the new pet? And is the pram very nice and just what Dr. Walter ordered? And does Arthur spend much time with his baby? Baby Ford. And does Ronnie still nurse Steph on his knee? The answers I presume are either raspberries or lemons.

Well dears, this station is about to close down for the night & with all my love, or the part which Iris hasn’t got,

I say God bless you both abundantly,
And keep you in all your ways

Your fond son


Wednesday, 7 April 2010

22nd March 1940 - Good Friday

No. 7374615
No 1 Section “A” Company
Becketts Park Training College

Leeds 6

My dear Mum and Dad

This is Good Friday, but I haven’t been able to attend any services. I’ve just had tea at which we were given one hot cross bun each, but as there was a vacant seat near me, I had an extra one. This is practically the only external evidence of Good Friday here. I could go to a church tonight but owing to the fact that letters must somehow be answered I must keep in and do my best. I haven’t been out since Sunday, not even to walk round the grounds. It isn’t so much hard work to send say a letter a day to someone away, but when that someone finds letters arriving in shoals which must each be answered it’s about four times more difficult.

There is precious little time during the day. A single period of drill sometimes lasts for two hours, and when we get about three periods a day, well there isn’t a great time left, taking other duties etc. into condiseration.

I see that tomorrow Saturday, I am down for fatigue at Becketts Home, about two and a half miles away. With the others detailed for same fatigue I have to parade at 7.45a.m. in Khaki, carrying canvas jacket & trousers & march to this place. Hardly anybody has heard of the place which apparently is to be taken over with other building for further intakes of recruits. There was never a time when there were so many chaps here. Some of the new fellows when they arrive will have to sleep in tents. Out sergeant Cowell is being transferred to this new Company F. So we shall be having a new instructor.

By the way, I hope you have go my long letter. I thought you might prefer having it dished up in that way than receiving a page or so every day. If not I can try to write to you each day. Please let me know dear.

I have completely recovered from the effects of the inoculations but am awaiting a further one next Friday. And then there is the dental business. Did I tell you about that? I had inspection the other day and they, my teeth, have to be attended to. I suppose they will drag out my brute by the excavator method. Other teeth have to be drilled. Sounds inviting doesn’t it, dear?

I hope, if I have the time, to go into Leeds tomorrow and send my case off. It’s a bit of a nuisance here.

As Marjorie has no doubt told you, I have found Kenneth and his quarters, and when we are free we shall spend a few hours together. Kenneth has some nice fellows in his company and he appears to be quite happy. He had a cold last Sunday, so was in Hospital for 2 days.

We have got in our section just one decent fellow named Jam. Hartshorne, a ginger fellow and school teacher. Although not extraordinarily religiously inclined, he is head and shoulders above the rest for intellect, though he is very unassuming and never parades his education.

We went to the Toc. H quarters in Becketts Park last night & sat writing letters. We have a library here, and a NAAFI canteen in another building where we can buy almost anything. We have our own telephone kiosk and post box, besides the post box in Toc H .

I still get lost wandering about here. This place is really on the grand scale. Each building averages about one hundred and twenty rooms, not small rooms. Some of them are colossal. Bathrooms etc to every section of the building, electric light and radiator to every room. I’ll describe my room another time.

We had a little concert here on Wednesday evening, in the Main Hall, just musical items and impressions. The performers were drawn from the lads here at Becketts Park with an A.T.S. girls or two thrown in.

One fellow with a beautiful voice sang `Because’ & Somebodys Sonata. A violinist in the orchestra sang `One day when we were young’. We had several orchestral items, there being abt 8 or 9 chaps in it. One fellow played on two spoons to a piano accompaniment and performed some acrobatic feats in doing it. There were accordion (piano) duets & mouth organ duets, and several first class impressions etc. etc. I came away just before the end. There was no payment & everything was absolutely moral.

The Main Hall is nearly as fine as the Moot Hall, so that will give you an idea. In it there is a big pipe organ which sounds beautiful, a gallery and seating accommodation for about 400 to 500 on the ground floor alone.

Well to get down to your two letters received, written on Tuesday & Wednesday. I was overjoyed that Iris has visited you. She really is a dear girl when you know her. I’m glad you like her.

Poor Iris! I did so want to write to her right away but noting seemed to help me in that direction. She must have thought I was a brute, yet I was so anxious for her. I had only been here a completed day when I started writing to her. Church spoilt its completion, so I had to finish it next day, i.e. Monday.

I still have letters here that I brought with me from Colchester, still unanswered. When I read your Tuesday’s letter at the dinner table I could hardly restrain the tears. Your Tuesday letter was given to me Thursday midday. Letters seem to take 2 days in transit. I had written to Iris on Monday, & your letter was the first news I had of her.

She must have excelled herself at talking that day. A pity she forgot abt the buses. I wish I had been there to take her home.

I think she is more than a girl in a thousand.
I have had no lectures as yet except on military discipline. The past week is really an extra week, and medical lectures and drill training start next week.

I have met no Scripture Reader, only the Padre whom I have not spoken to & the Methodist minister.

As you will realise, I haven’t been able to get in touch with a mission.

Now I’ll reply to the letter received today. Yes dear I’m getting very patient. It really is a good training ground for the soul. Abt. Sinking my pride and dignity. You musn’t worry about that. I’ve got on very well with the sgt. & as you know have been singled out by him to instruct others. This is the sgt. we are losing. You can trust me to absorb all the medical training I can. No, you can dismiss that abt the infantry reg. There’s no chance of that as far as I am aware. It’s only something thought of myself!

You know about my arm (O.K.) & Ken (found). I’m awfully happy abt. Iris. So she is spending today with you. It will be nice. I’m looking forward to coming home one day. Won’t I give you a big kiss! The Everitts seem very considerate. They are quite nice folk.

I look forward every day for your letter. When the letters are being called out I always listen intently.

I have read the E.C.T. (Did you see abt. Mr Harris of East Hill House being presented with a radiogram. It mentioned Miss H. Cornish). I’m saving the C. Herald for Sunday.

What a shame about Baby’s eyes. I do hope they become normal. Dear Joan will find new interests in Baby that will make up for Dick’s absences.

May I say that your writing hasn’t troubled me a single bit. I wonder if mine is easy to read.

You do write a lot & have a gift for expression. It’s just as good as hearing you talk.

I had a letter from Iris today, which made me go all `trembly’ when I took it. I am a happy lad with so many lovely things to look forward to every day or so. I wouldn’t change places with the King (or would I?)

You know that Marjorie Mary, Iris B, Jenny, Suzanne & Pansy have written. I’ve answered all except Pansy.

Tell Steph to hurry up or she’ll be forgotten.

Now my two dears, that is about all I can write for now.

Into God’s keeping I commend you. One other thing, Mum. You musn’t make my bedroom a shrine, you know. I’m not quite a saint (an R.C. one anyhow). I don’t mind you going into it. If you like you can use it whenever you like.

How is the wireless? Is it downstairs? And has Arthur shown you his car?

With my love & prayers.

Your very distant but near son


March 1940 - 1st letter home

No. 7374615
No 1 Section “A” Company
Becketts Park Training College

Leeds 6


My dear Mum & Dad

I was so pleased to receive your very long letters, both of which arrived yesterday, Tuesday p.m.. I would have replied last night but for the fact we had T.A.B. inoculation abt. 3p.m. which left me with most others with a temporary high fever. We are excused for 48 hrs until Thursday afternoon. Some of the chaps fainted. The foolish part about it was that a few minutes after we had been marched back to our quarters, the Fire Drill Bugle sounded so we had to parade again in the freezing cold and with a high wind. After waiting about a quarter of an hour we were told to march inside, and about 200 of us had to herd into a small hall, packed like cattle. There were no windows open. One chap near me fainted & after about twenty minutes wait I felt ready to faint myself. Then the Company Sergeant Major came along & told us that we could go to our rooms. I laid down in bed, and missed tea & supper, whilst I was sweating like a bull. So I couldn’t write to you after all. I feel better now, so don’t worry.

The meals are very substantial, in fact I usually miss half as there is too much to eat. All is very well cooked. The porridge is worse, there being no sugar added apparently.

I have missed breakfast yesterday & the day before, chiefly because of the shaving curse. Reveille goes at six in the morning. Breakfast now is 6.30. Between time we have to fold up our blankets in the correct manner, putting the kit tidily behind, sweep out & polish the floor, clean switches of electric lamp-shade, dust window ledge etc., dress after having washed, shaved, cleaned teeth & brushed our hair. Beside this we may perhaps be detailed for special duties such as cleaning out the corridors, steps which have to be washed down, lavatories, wash-basins & bathrooms attended to. There may be other things which escape me at the moment. Rather a tall order isn’t it? Then of course our boots must be cleaned and shining. There is a terrific amount of grease in these boots & it is well nigh impossible to shine them up. And naturally all brasses must be cleaned too.

After breakfast there is a parade at 7.45, followed usually after inspection by a few hours drill.

Then there is a bed inspection. Either the C. Sergeant Major or officers or both float into our rooms to look for faults.

We have had no medical lectures as yet, these starting, I believe, next Monday.
Well to start at the beginning, on Saturday morning we received our uniforms consisting of trousers, jacket (battle dress) forage cap, boots & a pair of what they here call shoes but which are really brown canvas topped slippers. You know the type. Also we had an overcoat (mine hasn’t got any brass buttons, praise be) canvas jacket & trousers for fatigues. Mine haven’t started yet.

On Saturday abt. 2p.m. we were allowed out, so I went to Leeds & sent off the telegram which you tell me arrived after my letter. Then I wandered all over the place, speaking to policeman, going into large stores, looking in the shops etc. Some of them are immense, on the Selfridge’s principle, lifts and so on. I finished up in Woolworths café, where a cheeky assistant admired my cap. Then I caught the tram to Becketts Park which is quite 3 miles outside the city. The fare however is only twopence. When we alight from the tram on the main Headingley road we have to walk about a quarter of a mile up to the Park gates, & then abt 300 yds to get to our quarters. Healthy exercise isn’t it, but not when you are tired or wearing heavy boots.

Sunday morning there was no Church Parade for us, just an ordinary parade, followed by a short drill.

In the afternoon abt 2p.m. we had our first inoculation against tetanus. Although it was a painful thing to be pricked by the needle, there were no after effects. We were allowed out after tea, so I took a tram into Leeds arriving there about six thirty. Practically all the churches started their services at 6p.m. so I wandered round for twenty five minutes to find a place to go. At last I spotted a Salem Cong. Church, & went in, finding I had come in the entrance obviously used by the preacher & choir, facing the congregation. A man hurried forward & I sat down beside him. There were abt 250 people there, also a large gallery. The choir are situated high up and the preacher below the choristers. I didn’t think an awful lot of the message, though the man is a good speaker. After the benediction he came over to me & invited me to come during the week to his institute which really has only a private membership. He was very cordial and wanted to know where I came from etc.

I’m not sure whether I shall avail myself of his offer. I might, some day.

Monday passed off with parades, drills, etc. After tea we were again allowed out. I didn’t go, however, but cleaned my brasses & boots & wrote my first letter to Iris E. So you can see how very busy I have been, not to have written to her before, and perhaps you will understand that I may not sometimes have the time to write a long letter to you, much as I want to.

Tuesday, parades, drills & in the afternoon the inoculation which I have described to you. When I get my cap badge, I’ll have my photo taken for you.

During this 48 hrs excused duties, we are confined to barracks, as this counts as a sick leave. I may perhaps be allowed out Thursday evening.

It was thoughtful of you to send that note about the broadcast from Headingley Church. I do so wish I had been there. Then you might have heard me sing (perhaps!). And the time would have suited me, too.

Yesterday morning we had to learn to slow march. I was singled out by our Sergeant, Cowell by name (who was in the Cameronians & has been sent here as instructor for drill, so that we learn discipline) to teach the backward chap himself, I had to drill the whole squad of 31. There are 33 in our Section 1 altogether. There are abt. 5 or more sections to our “A” company. I think that if I were in an infantary regiment I should get promotion fairly quickly, but as I am now you know that I can’t very well.

The weather here hasn’t been too good. There was quite a good deal of snow which we passed on our way up to Leeds & as we neared the city the visibility was very bad & misty. There is a strong gale blowing at the moment.

Before I forget, though in my heart I shall never forget, it was very kind of you to pack in those slabs of chocolate & biscuits. You thought for me more than I deserved, and for all you have done, including sending on the insurance card & writing those lovely letters, my heart feels more than the pen can express. By the way I think I should have the Health Record Card. You still have that, I believe. If so please send it on.

I have packed up my civvies in the big case with all the things I shall not want as yet, & the next available opportunity I shall take it into Leeds and send it off. The key I shall send by envelope so that you can undo the case.

If I had not had the case here I could have packed up my clothes & sent them ? the Army authorities free. I don’t mind though, paying the carriage, as the clothes will probably arrive home in better condition.

There is a free washing this end for a certain number of articles. 2 handkerchiefs, 1 pr socks, 1 pr pants, shirt, towel. For any other article a small charge is made.

Regarding the parcel which you so kindly said you were sending me, please put in only 1 vest & 1 pr short pants. I do not want any books sent. I don’t have time hardly to breathe, let alone read. And for the time being do not send any cakes as it is much as I can manage to eat what is given me now.

We have breakfast, dinner, tea & supper. By 9.30 we must be beside our beds. Lights out or tattoo is 10.15p.m. When we are allowed out we must be back by 9.30. On Sat & I believe Sunday, we may keep out till 12 midnight if we put in a pass. I don’t suppose I shall.

Now to turn to your letters. I have taken your tip & am writing on both sides of paper. Was my letter a lovely long description? I can remember hardly anything I wrote, my mind is so full and harried.

Regarding my departure, you were very brave and the circumstances were the best possible. I realise how very much you must have been dreading it. Truly you all bore yourselves with conspicuous courage. I am glad you didn’t break down, though I should have understood it if you had.

Yes I was surprised to find the letter, though I had reached the stage where nothing would have surprised me greatly. It was very sweet of you. I opened the case on the journey & read it. When you write I have to fight back the tears because I know how much you feel. I am so sorry, dearest Mum that you felt cut in two when I had left, but I am so rested to think that Dad is such a dear to you. Yes, you must bear each others’ burden. You really mustn’t get too sentimental over my bedroom. Why don’t you use it? I know I can have it when I come home. I am delighted to hear that everyone is so kind. I only hope that there is no grumbling about meals, as you must be tortured that way too.

It’s a great source of strength to prove that He who loves us never tests us above that which we are able to bear. I am sure that you have been drawn afresh to Him.

Poor Joan! I hope she has received Dick’s letter by now. Of course he may be very busy. I shouldn’t be surprised. Not all fellows have time on their hands in which to write. Yes I think too that she is very very brave. I’m glad Stephanie is better.

With reference to Kenneth, I had not seen him until yesterday morning and then he was parading with another company. He is in another building altogether & I think it is very improbable that I shall be able to visit him. I haven’t seen the other Kenneth, the Salvationist lad with whom we both travelled from Leeds. He is probably in the same company as Kenneth Bullisar. It is a great shame that we should have been parted. It would have made life a 100% easier and happier affair. All the fellows here are very much unlike the Kenneths.

The accent here is difficult to understand. Instead of saying “Yes” they say “ Ta, Ay”. One fellow sitting beside me at dinner said of a certain dish “I can taste the waiter in it”. He pronounced it like that instead of water.

Thanks for that tip re hair cut. I may make use of it.

I am conceited to hear that Sainsbury thinks so much of me. I haven’t been able to write to anyone except Iris & yourselves though I should love to write to everyone I know.

It was a nice thought of the girls to buy you those tulips, dear. They, the girls, will mean much to you in the days to come. You certainly have got in Marjorie the most selfless and tender daughter possible. She is absolutely invaluable. Bless her kind dear heart! .

Thanks for sending Derek’s letter. I see that you resolve to go to the R Mission more. Don’t for goodness sake overdo it. I think that you go too much as it is with all your worries. Your heart I know is often there, when your tired feet cnnot take you there.

I believe the Church here is situated in the Main Hall. I don’t know as yet. Everything here is self-contained. There is a place for R.C.s & I believe a priest, a C of E Padre & a Methodist minister. The latter visited my room on Friday & asked us where we came from & if we went to church. He did not say anything, though of a spiritual nature. I told him I was R M like you. I hope to be moved nearer home next time. Near enough to be able to get home for week-ends. I think that we have a week-end off in a month. We cannot forego, however, & have the two periods successively as it would interfere with training.

I have not used the new razor. I know it will be no good. We were given with it on Wardonia Blade, which though the best blade of its type is not going to help me. I shall stick to the Rolls. I shave in cold water as the water is not heated so early in the morning, & my face doesn’t look too good at the moment. Sundry pimples etc. I’m afraid. Perhaps I’ll get better soon, so don’t worry.

I’m quite used to the clothes. They are very easy to wear & comfortable.

It’s a pity Pansy is not well again, but I’m sure you will like her company, if she behaves herself, which I‘m sure she will do now.

In my room we have a radiator, so you needn’t worry on that account. And the beds are quite warm. They are made up on the floor but are very good.

It was appropriate to send that cutting from the D.Telegraph. Our way is the way of the Cross with all that it means in self-denial. It is a hard creed but it works out for our glory and His. May we all be patient that we may grow perfect through suffering. I expect Mum when I see you next that you will be sprouting wings, you will be so saintly.

Since writing the foregoing, I have received the local paper, Christian Herald & your last letter.

You are consistent in writing. I love to hear from you dears. It does draw us closer together.

So Joan has presented me with a nephew at last. Will you thank her very much & give her my warmest love. And kiss the baby for me, please. You won’t need the wireless and piano to provide music now. I hope you will all sleep somehow. It’s a good thing the Nurse arrived in time or you would have had to act as midwife.. It was a very close thing, and so unexpected at this time. Kiss Joan for me, won’t you?

I don’t feel lonely, dear. There is too much to do. I can’t say that I have made any friends though I speak to all the chaps. A great thing is not to make any enemies.

I’m glad you have written to Iris. Tell her that I told you I was always thinking of her.

Now dear, don’t put yourself out to write to me. And it doesn’t matter if its only a page. So please don’t exert your mind to think of something. I don’t suppose in the future that I shall find much time to write long letters to you.

Will you give my love to all at Orchard Villa. I shall try to write to Marjorie and Mary tomorrow. That letter which you forwarded on from H? has still to be replied to. And Iris B has written. As yet I haven’t had the time to read it. It will be a treat when I do. And at this rate I shall have to employ a secretary.

I hope you will all enjoy the Easter meetings. I trust that I shall be able to spend it in the usual way.

Now dear Mum and Dad I must really say good-bye, or I shall use up all of my ink.

So with my heart-felt love
I remain your loving Son


P.S. Thanks for the lines on I will pray on. It will encourage me greatly.
Also for stamping my envelopes.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010


A couple of years ago I was fortunate enough to be left a collection of war letters written by my father, J.W.N. Broom detailing his experiences in the RAMC during WW2.

I am in the process of writing a book based on those letters, `Onward Christian Soldier' which I plan to have published on the 100th anniversary of his birth on 7th July 1916. I thought it would be helpful for other people with an interest in the subjects and issues raised in his letters to be able to read extracts from them, and to feed back to me any comments they feel may be necessary or useful.

John was from Colchester, Essex and was one of 6 siblings, the other 5 being girls. He was the son of William George Broom, a master tailor, and Florence Neville. The family lived at Morten Road in 1939. His sisters were named Iris, Marjorie, Pansy, Joan and Stephanie. William had served in the trenches in WW1 and the family were churchgoers, attending the Railway Mission on North Station Road.

John had chosen to serve in the RAMC for conscientious reasons, and the first 9 months of his army life detailed his basic training at Beckett Park, Leeds. Subsequent to that he was posted to 7th Light Field Ambulance, undergoing further training in Whitby, Aldbourne in Wiltshire and Groombridge in Sussex before being sent to North Africa in May 1942. His unit were part of the 7th Armoured Division, the renowned `Desert Rats'. They returned to the UK in January 1944 before moving to Normandy in June 1944 and taking part in the great push through France, Belgium, Holland and Germany before the final victory in 1945. John stayed in Germany until being demobbed in February 1946, 6 years after enlistment.

Previously unseen, the letters provide a unique insight into a journey through Britain's `darkest hours' from a strongly Christian perspective.