Wednesday, 7 April 2010

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.

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