Ever Your Husband Lover

A Love Story

Kuneina, Sudan – 13th January 1940

 

13 January 1941

My dearest little darling,

Three days ago I experienced the happiest days since reluctantly leaving the homely shores of merry England. Among the ton of mail, which arrived on that day, I had the great satisfaction of finding two envelopes addressed to me in your sweet and most artistic hand, dated 04 October and 18 October 1940.

Having waited in hope for 102 days for a communication from you, you can well imagine, my darling Betty, how the sight of your handwriting alone produced the most thrilling sensations within me. I read those gifts from heaven an unaccountable number of times and the more I read them the closer I feel to you and your sweet epistles have the desired effect of making me feel as if I was still roaming around the beautiful English countryside in winter.

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It so happens that I was laying on my back in my tamboo resting my inflamed leg as much as I could when your love messages were brought to me.  With maximum care I opened the first-written with a knife and as I drew it towards my nose and it seemed to me that the envelope had been dipped in a most exotic perfume. At that very moment I could have sworn that you were by my side and as I looked round to glance into your eyes you vanished and that perfect dream just died away. On removing the contents of the second envelope I was naturally very excited. Then I unfolded the scented handkerchief within it and inhaled its delicious Coty scent. And learning that your heart was enclosed within, I placed it in a safe keeping in my left breast shirt pocket over my heart. And there it will remain until the day we meet again as an act of sincere gratitude, undying and returned love to you, my dear Betty.

 Well Darling, you now know how long it takes mail to reach this godforsaken place, 11 to 13 weeks to be precise!!!

 Now let me open your first letter for the umpteenth time darling. It’s mainly concerned with our last week together, centered in that quiet and retiring rustic village of Amersham – a week of unsurpassed happiness, ecstasy, peace and enchantment for us both; a week that will always remain one of our happiest memories, a week that we constantly relieve in our thoughts; a week that we would pay all the money in the world to live again in reality…

As your first letter was written the day after we parted for awhile, you sound particularly upset – just as I felt when the train drew nearer and nearer to the port of embarkation, as if half of me was missing. By now I daresay you have got used to the idea of us being parted, but it still doesn’t seem right and never will be. As you say in these difficult times we should be thankful for so many happy recollections of all those romantic hours we shared before and after our union day. You tell me that you are lost for words when writing to tell me how much you love me. I greatly appreciate your laudable words about my character towards you but don’t forget you have only known your soldier husband. Has it ever occurred to you what a model person your plain-clothes husband will be?

As you say the war cannot last, as the days roll on so it gets nearer and nearer to a successful end. In the meantime, we shall both cooperate and be brave, remain hopeful, keep smiling and above all, console ourselves with future plans we made when walking to Amersham station on Sunday morning.

I notice with dismay and bitter regret that you brave folks still have to put up with continual air raid warnings throughout the day, that the windows in the front and back of the flats are smashed by vibration. Continue to stand up to it, heroes that you are! Remember that the Boche cannot destroy brave people! What an awful experience it must have been, to spend the whole night in an Anderson shelter. When I heard that a square mile of the city was dynamited last week, I held tight to a chair and prayed for the best.

You say that you would give anything to put your head on my shoulder, feel my arms around you, all those romantic acts will seem so strange to us when we meet again in fact so strange that we shall have to start from the beginning all over again. Is it not wonderful to think that when we do celebrate our reunion we have all those happy things to look forward to? I’m glad I made you so immensely happy during our last night in Amersham. I too, shall never forget the love you returned – our common understanding has reached its desired stage…..

So you’ve had your first autumn storms and rains have you? The word rain seems so remote to us these days that we are beginning to lose its meaning. However in a few weeks time we will have had enough of it. Remember the film we saw at Maidstone during our honeymoon “When the Rains Came”? It is very appropriate for this part of the world you know!

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Betty! You are a bad, bad girl making your husband’s mouth water unnecessarily. Going to the Hollybush and telling me all about those lovely little cakes! By the way what is the meaning of the word cake? Never seen them here!

I shall always remember that time –“Da da boom”, we sang, walking across the fields in Amersham.  I can still picture how happiness rang in our hearts on that glorious day. It does now, only it’s a different kind of happiness. Perhaps it can be better termed as a reassuring feeling within us that we are wedded in holy matrimony, that we belong to each other with equal pride forever.  God has rewarded my patience, my yearning of hearing from you.

Before closing, one reprimand, their and there are errors that occur time and time again. Their hats and I go there!

In the meantime then, all my love, hugs and kisses to you darling I live for the day of our reunion. You are all that matters to me in this world.

 Ever your husband lover,

 Raymond

 

 

Kuneina, Sudan – 10th January 1941

10th January 1941

My dearest little darling,

Another week has elapsed since I last wrote to you.

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The past week has been a black one for me as regards my health but I am glad to say it was not serious enough to see me in hospital. The past seven days began with another move on a big scale, but by road this time darling, and of two days duration.We left the region of gum trees and hills, thorn bushes and dried grass early one morning.  It so happened that I became passenger of the officers’ mess lorry and Eric and I looked small seated as best we could on the pile of stores and equipment at the back. Presently Eric brandished his piano accordion and so was inaugurated a happy sing-song. The natives whom we passed on our way halted and gazed in bewilderment at this monstrosity held by Eric and from which musical strains were produced!  Such a long ride presented an admirable outline of the province through which we travelled. On the whole the vegetation seemed to be similar to that we had just left. Indeed in some cases one could see myriad of those peculiar lofty plants similar to hollyhocks (the only flower I’ve yet come across in the country!) In other cases, burnt-out forests or wooded areas consisting of entirely bare trees were prominent. The usual native villages presenting closely packed circular mud huts could be seen in the distance at intervals. On the horizon enormous mountain ranges seem to protect the surrounding countryside in majestic fashion. The most rare yet morbid sites of the journey were carcasses of doomed camels lying on the roadside and an aeroplane of enemy nationality, which had met its end in a nosedive fashion.

After five hours we came to a halt in a bushy field at proximity to a town. After a mid-day snack flavoured by the contribution of sardines, I decided to lend Jack a hand in the officer’s cookhouse, peeling potatoes and carrots after which I helped Doug to dig the customary slit trench as protection against possible air raids. At night I was picked for guard duty during which I was constantly harassed by needle shaped thorns, which have the wretched habit of making themselves invisible by moonlight. At 2200 hours I was glad to retire to bed as I had received a sufficient dose of scratches and had felt far from well throughout the day.

The next morning we set off at 0900 hours on the second and final lap of the journey by road. Two more plane wrecks were sighted – one with damaged wing and the other a heap of twisted metal thus making its origin totally unidentifiable. A camel’s carcass in the act of being devoured by vultures was a hideous sight to behold. Immediately on arrival at our destination, all hands were active. Most of the men were camouflaging vehicles in such a way as to render them totally invisible. I was detailed to help erect an officers’ mess by means of tree trunks, elephant grass and branches and dig a refuge pit in spite of not feeling at all fit the job.

Well dearest several days have passed since and life is very quiet and uneventful. When I say that I am mainly occupied in the office truck, dealing with interminable chain of correspondence or else digging a pit, camouflaging an object from view, eating, writing to you, sleeping in the moonlight, basking in the sun or being tormented by flies, you should have an extremely accurate notion of the life that I’m now leading. The occasional roar of distant gunfire and planes flying overhead now and again are the only characteristics that break the silence.  These woods are simply infested by the most colourful birds on God’s earth. The most common to the eye are huge black crows with a white streak on their chest, various types of canary and many representatives of the eagle family. I should have pointed out that the trees are totally devoid of foliage and in some cases; a maroon substance from which the tint of Burnt Sienna is derived naturally protects their bark.

Lizards and chameleons, whose bodies are excellently camouflaged, are our best friends. They seem to eat more flies than their small bodies are capable of containing. Snakes have been observed by some, but I haven’t had that pleasure yet! I’m afraid the flies are more numerous out here than at our previous station and the more they attack me the more infuriated I become. The mere sight of them crowding round an open wound or crawling unchallenged over a neighbour’s face is sufficient to put you right off your dinner!

A few days ago I learnt of the tragic news home from London and can hardly believe that a square mile of the city is on fire.  I wonder if the Houndsditch Warehouse still stands. Oh darling, it is this indiscriminate bombing that worries me so much. Do look after yourself and think of your own safety before anyone else’s. I dread to think of you going to the city from Hampstead each day. Is there any necessity for it, don’t you think you’ll be better off if you stay at home? Or if you insist on working, can you try and find a job in Hampstead? Please give due consideration to my appeal. Try and realize how very much you mean to me and how safe I want you to be.

On issue day we received our usual weekly supply of cigarettes as well as a bar of soap for laundry purposes and some dubbin to protect our boots from wear and tear.

Well dearest you are probably wondering what has been troubling me this week.  I began to feel like nothing on earth. Pain seemed to surge through all my joints and across my back and a gland in my left groin began to swell rapidly and become very sensitive. To make matters worse my nose bled frequently and I experienced the vilest headache. Then I happened to look down my leg and to my astonishment observed an ugly looking septic spot and a multitude of tiny red ones. A visit to the M.O. informed me that the poisoned spot was the cause of the swollen gland and my general indisposition. For the past two days I have been resting and have received regular medical attention. I have had several hot fermentations on the septic spot and I’m glad to say that the rest and first aid have done me the world of good.

The second batch of mail arrived a couple of days ago and I regret to say that no letter from you figured among it! Furthermore, among the 40 odd telegrams received, there was no reply to the cable I sent you nearly 3 weeks ago! Having observed that London mail is still scarce I shall not take it to heart. I shall be hopeful and patient… they say that no news is good news so why worry too much?  Keep smiling darling I shall always be,

Ever your husband lover,

Raymond

Haiya, Sudan – 18th December 1940

Haiya, Sudan

18th December 1940

My dearest little darling,

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Since I last wrote to you another week has elapsed with as equal rapidity as the preceding ones. The mere fact that I am communicating with you soothes my mind and somehow brings forth sufficient material for me to write a note of length to prove each week that no matter how long we are apart, I have one most important object in life to fulfil – that of constantly rekindling the flame of our sacred union thereby reviving happy memories concerning our two hearts and looking into a hopeful future in which we will both prosper.

In spite of the approach of Christmas festivities, life in the desert does not vary and needless to say I greatly miss the enjoyment derived from walking in a typical London thoroughfare, crowded with people rushing to bring their Christmas shopping to successful conclusion. I also miss the weather, the frost and snow necessitating the wearing of warm garments. But most of all I dread to realize how deeply I miss spending a day in your charming, and sociable company. How many happy and enjoyable Christmas days are in store for us? Many, I sincerely hope for your sake as well as mine. As things go let us continue to adopt optimistic views, so we may be later richly rewarded for our patience.

The month of December has proved a hot one in as far as the weather is concerned; the absence of civilization has resulted in the complete disappearance of the symptoms of the oncoming sacred day. It is said that a Christmas dinner has been promised to us but even if it does materialize how can we possibly partake of it with that same enthusiasm and jollity in such a desolate zone as this? However there is truth in the saying ‘be thankful for small mercies’.

The past week has been responsible for getting me used to this rough type of living which is a step nearer to the worst that we will probably experience later on. I should mention however that I was on guard last Saturday night and had a splendid opportunity of admiring and the utter stillness of these regions at night. As usual the powerful moon shone brilliantly thus making every object on my path discernible. It is indeed at night that the East throws out its charms; on the other hand it gives an unquenchable thirst for romance (another example of my being so utterly helpless without you darling). The sky at night is a delight to the human eye and so very different to what us Europeans have to contend with. The clear bright moon, the myriad of stars illuminating every inch of the heavens and forming several streaks of milky ways and most characteristic of all the complete absence of clouds. The silence which reigned during my hours of duty was only broken occasionally by a distant howl of the notorious desert wolves that prevail over the more mountainous regions and that fortunately keep their distance from human beings. Needless to say, in such tranquillity there were no signs of life and at times it seems so sinister to me that I thought that me and my shadow were the only movable objects on this vast, troubled planet of ours. So much for the guard duty – I enjoyed it – the peace that reigned permitted me to fall into a delightful and passionate reverie in which you and I were the only characters.

During the week I have been on familiar terms with the natives of the district who incidentally are very few in number. I enjoy studying their habits and customs. Their actions and mannerisms seldom compare with ours. Among many instances, I have observed that these people always sell their goods in a crouching position; possess admirable white teeth even though they never “Maclean” them; eat snuff at intervals during their business hours and continue to set the best example of this good-humoured race. Adding to my collection of souvenirs from the Eastern world, I have purchased a typical double-edged dagger of sinister appearance as carried by the local inhabitants.

I have had to wash my own clothes owing to the absence of a local laundry. So please darling, add laundryman to the list of your versatile husband’s many new qualifications and trades. While stationed at our previous location I had the misfortune to fall asleep cigarette in hand. I woke with a start only to find that I had set light to my shorts! Covering up the large burn kept me busy last week and if you saw my shorts now you would, I hope, be at a loss to discover where the tragedy occurred! That wonderful performance compels you once again to add to my lengthy list of trades satisfactorily performed in the Army. Now a tailor too, ha ha!

Normally the Sabbath entitles the individual to a certain amount of rest. The sound of distant church bells evokes his spirit to a retreat from work. But alas! It is not the case in this part of the world neither is it so on active service! To me last Sunday was just an ordinary day during which more hours of work kept the mighty war machine in action. Duties in the office were even more plentiful than on an ordinary weekday, and I made more than one journey by foot across the vast plains. It is such days that make me long for a peaceful Sunday at home. Picture for yourself the peace that would reign. To begin with a bright log fire in a large cosy room and the electric light extinguished. A large settee is drawn up in front of the fire and just you and I, side by side, legs nestling on a pouf, speaking of our love and discussing our future intentions. Darling, having attempted to describe the setting after my own heart I am now desperately jealous of the words!

I have had too many opportunities of treading on this damnable soil hampered with tufts of weeds, thick sand and fragments of granite. Walking on this ground which presents so many obstacles (there are no paths or public rights of way of course) one is apt to develop a hunch back, as in order to avoid stumbling it is essential to fix one’s eyes firmly to the ground. The sand dust substantiates this ugly method of walking thus ensuring protection for the eyes. It would be neat to walk upright along the lengthy high road, which cuts across Salisbury Plain. Oh! There is no place like England, a home and my life’s companion!

Now for animal life in the desert. Wolves of which I have only seen an outline in the distant hills, inhabit these regions but as stated before are seldom seen journeying across the plains. Gazelles put in an occasional appearance and ostriches are said to abound some 4 or 5 miles from here but to this day I have not yet seen one alive and kicking. The only birds to be seen are enormous crows that usually disturb the peace of the afternoon with their shrill utterances. There is a good variety of insects here, the most common of which are insistent-natured flies. These aggravating pests are a downright curse to mankind. The more you kill them, the more they send up reinforcements. They settle on every part of the exposed body and never give you a minute’s peace. It often happens that the Adjutant joins us in fly swatting and competitions are often held as to who has the largest bounty. Indeed, the extermination of flies seems to be the favourite sport of the day.  Fortunately at night these evil creatures vanish at only to return first thing in the morning and cause you to cut your face with the razor!

Scorpions – fearful looking monsters resembling shrimps – are, thank heavens, rarely seen although I should mention that Eric located one under a stone and now holds it in captivity in a matchbox. The size of its deadly sting is grotesque in comparison with its ugly body and what we have been told about the wretched insect is enough to keep miles away from them. Crickets play their melodious tune at night but their camouflaged body is similar in hue to the nature of the ground and permits them to be passed unnoticed. Ants cross the miniature sand dunes and are giants compared with their English relatives. Large black heavy beetles possessing strong muscular legs also abound. Contemplating collecting insects, I suffocated a species of the latter in cigarette smoke but I have not continued, or rather have held that hobby in abeyance. The beetle in question however shall be kept as a souvenir so let’s hope it will forever remain in a good state of preservation.

The food is gradually reaching its normal standard again, porridge is now served for breakfast and the local bread made without yeast has proved a little more appetizing than last week. We are still upholding the watermelon habits and indulge in one every evening. Yesterday’s melon and was the largest I’ve ever set eyes upon. It was so enormous that 12 men derived a most handsome portion from it!

Well darling time compels me to hand this letter over to the censor’s hands. I have enclosed a group photograph taken on camelback in front of the pyramids. This letter carries all my love.

Ever your husband lover,

Raymond

 

23rd November 1940

(Near Cairo, Egypt)

23rd  November 1940

My dearest little darling,

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You will no doubt be pleased to hear that I am at present settled down on land once more and am making the best of these peaceful surroundings to make up for the monotonous life I led during a sea voyage of apparent interminable length.

In my last letter, I informed you that we had arrived safely at our destination and no doubt you remember that I spent the night performing the duties of guard. Fortunately for me, it was considerably curtailed in order to carry out a rapid exit from the ship and we rose in the darkness of the early hours of the morning, breakfasted at 4.30, packed our equipment and stores, loaded the ferry boat which eventually conveyed us to the busy docks where, after unloading the goods and stores on the train we assumed our seats in a wooden and bare third first-class carriage.

The train journey revealed immense stretches of sand dunes with perhaps one solitary tuft of grass in every square mile; a total lack of vegetation and civilisation and wide expanse of clear blue sky. Sometime in the afternoon we alighted at our final destination and after entertaining a multitude of curious people clinging to the railings that separated the street from the platform, we loaded up and presently made ourselves as comfortable as possible crouched in lorries speeding towards an allotted camp. Arriving at the rest camp (for it is so called I understand) we found great relief in discarding our loathsome equipment, were allotted in a most spacious and well ventilated tent and introduced ourselves to the office, a large modern hut resembling a Swiss chalet, which consists of five rooms with stone floors. These are very cool during the midday sun and spacious enough for work to be carried out in comfort. Since the regimental office was re-established I have been kept moderately busy reorganising several items in my capacity as filing clerk.

The camp itself is a vast sand coloured plain on which a large number of tents of different sizes and shapes have been erected, as well as a multitude of wooden huts serving as mess rooms or offices. A large canteen run by the NAAFI attracts the hungry and thirsty at every hour of the day whilst the laundry operated by energetic natives who toil day and night without murmur, stationery shop and barbershop all have an enormous clientele.

The weather is equivalent to our summer in dryness and heat. The sun throws out her strong rays throughout the day and her early setting, which normally takes place in the region of 1700, is a glorious sight to behold. Unfortunately, it so happens that the constancy of warm weather brings forth its disadvantages, namely clouds of dust wherever you tread and swarms of flies. The former encumbrance almost dispenses of boot polishing! Indeed, even the most perfect and painstaking shine would soon be completely obliterated by a thick layer of white sand dust. The aggravating and loathsome flies have a habit of announcing their approach from nowhere by a sinister buzz and they cling to all exposed parts of the body.

Fortunately there exists effective remedies for these tiresome drawbacks. As far as dusty boots are concerned, small native boys who earn their living as boot blacks simply abound in the most unlikely places where soldiers congregate such as tram stops, club exits etc. One particular, a 12-year-old who lost both his legs three years ago in Abyssinia when knocked down by a passing tram car, does his job well and like all his confederates has a remarkable gift for business deals and accepts or rather tries to charge any amount between one pound and a halfpenny! Others sell fly-swatters with equal audacity and artfulness. Town leave is granted daily from after duty until 0130. To reach the town, I jump on a tram at the bottom of the main road from camp. A tram ride is the cheapest item you can possibly ask for in this country. Indeed the five-mile journey costs a mere tuppence in second class. The conveyance is actually a cross between a tram and district train in that from one end of the journey to the other we leave the streets for the most part of the journey and race through a railway track constructed between agricultural lands of the suburbs and slum areas of the town where mud huts and tumbledown shacks are prominent.

Needless to say the general characteristics of city life are nothing new to me, as they closely resemble those of Paris. Summarising briefly I should rightly call it one of the most cosmopolitan towns in the world. The most prominent section of the population of Egypt is the Egyptian Arab but Greeks, French, Italian and Armenians, mostly refugees and exiles of bygone days who have settled down here, are seen wherever you go. I find great pleasure and derive immense satisfaction by conversing in French whenever I have an opportunity of speaking to a civilian or a storekeeper. I buy the French edition of the newspaper and eavesdrop without arousing suspicion (thanks to the British uniforms) on many intimate conversations by my neighbours. The latter practice is great fun but I should hate to be in the speaker’s boots especially when personal matters are discussed!

The average Egyptian businessmen dresses similarly to a European but wears a red fez with black tassel as a headdress and the working classes pedlars and peasants are clad in garments identical to an old-fashioned striped nightdress and many protect their heads by means of a peculiar floral designed headwear. The women, rarely seen unless escorted by their males or else chaperones are up-to-date in European fashions, the most fashionable attire evidently being light blue or grey costumes. Hats are very seldom worn. The peasant females are generally attired in long black robes and still carry the veil. As already inferred peddlers of all ages and descriptions selling fanciful objects, leather work, souvenirs, periodicals etc swarm around men in uniform and no doubt carry out successful deals at the expense of short-sighted asses who fall into their clutches. Last Thursday night I had the equivalent of one penny in my pocket on returning home after a 15 minute argument in broken English and French with a peddler who tried to pass off an imitation gold ring for half a crown, I succeeded in knocking down the price to the penny I had left.  And that’s the sort of thing that goes on every second of the day in this town and in this country as a whole. They will stick to you like glue; a refusal to buy their goods inspires more confidence in them; they are as persistent and as obstinate as the flies.

Talking of finance will receive an extra fourpence a day representing colonial allowance which, needless to say is very welcome. The Egyptian coinage is most complicated as in some cases there are several different coins representing the same value. There is also a vast field of dud coinage you have great difficulty in getting rid of it.

The food in town is excellent and greatly resembles French cuisine. Eggs are as cheap as dirt so much so that asking for one egg in a restaurant is considered an abnormality I’m sure you will shudder to learn that I have averaged three good eggs a day so far and that I am hoping to increase that figure before we leave the area. As in Paris and other famous continental cities there are more restaurants and cafes than any other shop and I would give anything to sit down to a typical Egyptian meal if I was given the opportunity but unfortunately most native quarters are out of bounds to HM forces. There are many cinemas presenting the latest American films and most popular French efforts of pre-war days, cabaret shows commonly known as money traps and several other places of entertainment.

I went to the pictures yesterday and saw Laurel and Hardy act the fools, also Mickey Rooney in “Andy Hardy has Spring Fever”, which was responsible for keeping the international audience in fits of laughter. French captions appeared on the screen on the side of which a smaller one displayed captions in Greek and Arabic!

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In the thoroughfares there are a considerable number of archways to huge buildings of Oriental architecture. Under these there are strings of bazaars, cafes, tobacconists and photographers. In the bazaars millions of souvenirs can be purchased at very high prices that simply ask to be beaten down. The most attractive mementoes are the typical Egyptian brooches and spoons, bracelets and necklaces. Needless to say, I am very anxious to add to your spoon collection but in these difficult times I cannot trust the postal services let alone the bad reception at the customs offices. Tomorrow I shall endeavour to have my photograph taken for you, sweetheart, and all being well shall forward it with this letter.

I miss you all the more now that I am on earth again and I try very hard to forget the sadness of being without you, but without much success. It is the fact of being totally unable to forget you, the love and happiness you have brought to me, dearest heart, that still makes me grow more fond of you each day.

I worship the thought that no matter how long we are apart, I shall always regard you in the same light of beauty, of everything that is most sacred. I console myself at the thought that you are as near to my heart as could be. I rejoice when I bear in mind that every passing day will bring you nearer to me.

News about London is so very vague that it worries me terribly. It was with much relief that I heard on the wireless that you now have a moment to breathe in the City and that nights are quieter than before. Thank God, the huns are experiencing similar conditions to those of September and let’s hope that a further dose will quieten them forever. How very happy and relieved I shall feel when I receive word from you in your neat artistic handwriting! Two months have passed without a letter… and it is said that letters from England take five months or more to reach here. This letter, which is being sent by airmail, should reach you in about a month’s time.

It does not seem logical for me to walk about without my other half and when I set eyes on happy couples, a sinking feeling develops over me and my heart almost breaks. It is all the thousands of happy reminiscences in which we both star and which will forever linger in my mind that keep me alive. I do hope you are keeping your sweet little pecker up and continue to uphold your amiable character and pleasant disposition in spite of our common unhappiness of being torn apart for a while.

Keep your mind active, darling Betty, enjoy life and take great interest in your job and then you will find that all these unnecessary disappointing days will soon come to an end. Above all think of yourself first and look after yourself, keep safe, darling and never deny shelter from dangers.

I understand that every so often we are entitled to send a personal letter home, which does not fall into the talons of the censor. It is then that you will know the truth about my deepest feelings towards you and the genuine expression of my intensive love for you. In the meantime darling please content yourself with these dull and dry letters.

Ever your husband lover,

Raymond

1st November 1940

My dearest little Darling,

We have a pretty good idea of our present location but I regret to say that I am not in a position to reveal it to you. All I can say is that we have not completed our journey by a long way. The clear blue sky and the constant deep blue stillness of the sea are a treat to the human eye, especially as it is thickly populated by flying fish which occasionally reveal their silvery bodies when they skim over the surface, as if chased by some demon beneath.

The only event akin to the army, which has fallen me during the past week, was a four-hour guard duty.  Having been allocated this shift from 2200 hours to midnight and 0400 to 0600 hours, in between these times I slept peacefully on deck, in a deck chair wrapped up in my greatcoat.  It was a typical tropical night of peace and contentment and little did I think at time, that there was a ghastly war in progress. I was definitely at ease in my solitude as such peaceful and refreshing circumstances and atmosphere of romance, a moonlit sea and gentle breezes, seemed so suitable for you and I together. And so I began to think of you – reminiscing of all the joyous and joy-bringing moments we have spent together and I searched for you on the distant horizon, only to realise a brutal fate holds her sway over us and refuses to bring us nearer to each other at the present moment at any rate.

At 0600 when the guard was dismissed, a very cheering sight laid ahead which automatically banished any troubles caused through insufficient sleep. Land! and prospects of going ashore! It was quite a different landscape to our last vision of land. This time, we gazed at a lengthy range of colossal mountains stretching from one extremity to the other. The most striking and uncommon appearance was the enormous table mountain in the background on which a sea of clouds was descending and a massive conical shaped mountain of slightly lesser height with a bulging peak in the foreground. The city, modern and clean in all its appearance, occupied the lengthy, narrow strip of land forming the successive valleys to this hilly region.

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At about 9 o’clock, the announcement that all troops would be allowed ashore until 21.30 met with great relief and applause. We slipped on our tropical kit and patiently waited for the word GO. You have no idea what a wonderful feeling it was to tread on terra-firma again, to wear comfortable boots instead of dilapidated plimsolls which draw the heat from the sun-scorched deck and to dress in a smart new uniform. As soon as the usual morning parade came to an end, Eric, Bill, Neil, Jack and myself were seen to march along in a row along the busy dockyards, filled with a thousand items of interest, so uncommon to our eyes. The majority of dock labourers for instance, were black and all severely clad in cheap old, brown, stained overalls and brown felt hats.

Goods trains laden with coal were streaming towards the landing stages, whilst the peculiar piercing and high pitched boat sirens, the whistling of passing steam trains, the continual chatter of native workmen made enough noise to wake the dead. We followed the thousands of uniformed fellows in front of us to the dock exit and gazed in bewilderment upon a well-planned city of spick and span appearance, consisting mainly of a network of wide and tidy streets. This part happened to be the main shopping centre, equivalent to our West End. My enthusiastic eyes shot to the window displays.   Many cafés displayed ostrich eggs and other native or local cuisine in their windows. Clothing stores proved expensive in their summer sales. Cinemas, three of which were almost next door to one another, advertised films that had already met with success at our West End theatres and booksellers seem to stock similar literature to ours, apart from local newspapers and Afrikaans book editions.

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We eventually found ourselves seated in the Princess Café, and ordered fried fillet of plaice and chips, bread, butter and tea. It appears to be a South African custom to include a mixed salad with fish and chips, or at least that’s what we received additionally, although we did not order it. Bread and butter appeared in vast quantities on a dainty dish and you could have knocked me over with a feather at the mere sight of it! Imagine asking for a portion of bread and butter in Lyons and receiving three thick rounds of bread and laden with butter? Well dearest heart, that’s the experience we had. The tea was perfect – Lipton’s brand- in extreme contrast to its counterpart on board our ship. On account of our being visitors in uniform, the bill was reduced and on production of a ten shilling note, my worldly possession, South African change was returned,

Just before 3 o’clock, I was due to relieve Eric in the office, so I made my way back to the ship across the busy docks. Naturally, I did not welcome the idea of spending a solitary hour in the office, but as it was a case of having to, I managed to outlive such striking monotony and eagerly looked forward to 1700. At that God sent hour, I was free again and sauntered to the dock exit and met Eric and Don who informed me that two kind gentlemen had invited them to a ride throughout the afternoon and that they were ready to pick me up.

The gents in question, Messrs Strip and Griffith, who married sisters, had settled down in the Union a few years ago and have since met with great success and are now living a most happy life, free from wars, cares and trouble. They drove us along the newly built winding road leading towards the apex of the table mountain, and our way there, I was completely baffled at the wonderful scenery, mostly consisting of woodlands, in which clusters of silver leaves were prominent. The different aspects of the raging sea lashing against the scattered rocks and the steep roads more often than not presented danger at every bend as only concrete blocks constructed at regular intervals separated the edge of the cliff road from wide-open sea. This did not hinder Mr Griffith’s skilful driving, where the speed limit imposes 30 miles an hour on the trip.

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We passed through the clean modern suburbs of Camp Bay and Sea Point, and after about half an hour of delightful travelling in the American car, we arrived at Mr Griffith’s luxurious villa. Here again, just like anywhere else, we particularly noticed the cleanliness of the place, a pleasant state of being which seems so common among these hospitable people. We were ushered into a lounge, a most spacious and lofty room, containing cosy armchairs, sofas and an improvised bar. We were offered pleasant tasting South African beer – resembling lager – and settled down to interesting conversation, from which we learned facts relative to this prosperous country. Presently the wives put in an appearance and announced that supper was ready, the latter consisted of a tremendous dish adorned with homemade sausages, gammon rashers of indisputable breath, a multitude of fried eggs, home-made tarts (referred to as cookies), stacks of bread and an inexhaustible quantity of fresh butter and tea with taste in it. Needless to say I made a pig of myself by partaking of 3 eggs, hence the saying “where there’s an egg, there’s a Raymond!” They are most fortunate people Darling, who are not experiencing the difficulties that are automatically brought about by war. Indeed there is no rationing of food, petrol consumption is unlimited and black out restrictions are non-existent. On conclusion of a most enjoyable and satisfactory supper, we listened to the news from Daventry, smoked local cigarettes of Rhodesian blend and continued a wide spread conversation, which was re-enforced by the voices of the ladies. Needless to say we felt ill at ease when curtains were not drawn at dusk but we soon got used to the good old pre-war mode of living. How I wished that you were included in this limelight of guaranteed peace and happiness dearest, but never mind, by the looks of recent events, we won’t have to wait much longer for the return of joyful days.

Just after 9 o’clock, our wonderful day was nearing to a close and the gentlemen drove us back to the docks by a short cut downhill towards the sea front. On our way, Mr Griffiths pulled up at a confectionery shop and bought us 150 cigarettes, 4 oz of tobacco, 3 half lb bars of chocolate and a half lb of sweets for the non-smokers.  Adding to all of this, his generosity and amazing hospitality, he bade us goodbye and good luck with the assurance that we were always welcome at any time in the future.

A most enjoyable day which, with the exception of every happy moment that I have spent in your pleasant unrivalled company, was the most pleasant one I have spent since joining the colours. When I tell you that almost every man in this regiment was similarly welcomed in Cape Town, you will no doubt agree with me that hospitable disposition of these generous people is beyond comparison. On our way back, we had just a few minutes to spare to indulge in a lager at a local public house and then speedily mended our way back onto the ship. Back to work, unappetising meals and daily routine we went, happy however, for having been granted the privilege of going ashore.

The next morning we left this new world full of prospects for the adventurer and many of us are now thinking of settling down here at the end of this destructive war. Eric and I have bought a book on Afrikaans language and are studying it with great enthusiasm in the hope that some day it may help us to lead a far more peaceful, healthy, carefree and secure life in the future.

I miss you terribly Betty dearest and would give up all my worldly possessions to speak to you again or even just to see your face in the flash of a second. No doubt you’re experiencing dull cold misty weather in London, liable to develop into lingering fog, whereas we cannot ask for a finer day. I wonder what our flat looks like now. I can imagine you stealthily creeping up through the wooded areas of the Heath and victoriously carting huge branches of red leaves back to the flat and then having carefully placed them in a tall vase on the mantelpiece, keeping a queue waiting outside the phone booth whilst you put calls through the relatives as a matter of diplomacy. Presently you decide to drop in at Holly Bush but on your way there you pop over to Smith’s bookstall and buy the latest edition of ‘Women and Beauty’ and perhaps you purchase a copy of ‘France’, for the one you can constantly think of and long for.

Ever your husband lover,

Raymond

25th October 1940

My Dearest Little Darling,

Before I forget, this is what you should be getting from the paymaster, my previous calculations are hereby cancelled:

1 Government pay : 17s  per week

2 My allotment :   7s  per week

3 Extra for living in the London area :  3/6 per week

4 Proficiency pay :   3/6 per week

5 My one year service pay :   1/9 per week

The total is:  32/9

On Wednesday and Thursday afternoon a boxing tournament took place and met with great success. Acting as runner between judge and referee, I had a splendid view of the ring, which was cleverly erected in the open.

IMG_5415Never have I seen so many black eyes, bleeding noses and knock-out blows as I have during the above mentioned competition.  The only parallel I can think of off-hand, being the bloody riots in Paris in 1934 when the Stavisky affair gave birth to an ill-feeling among the extremists. It seems such an unnecessary waste of energy for two fellows to punch each other with all their might in a fit of competitive vigor, but still, these chappies revel at the idea of having a broken nose or swollen eyes and it’s as well they do, if they all thought the same as me, this would be a peculiar world lacking in rivalry and different ideas.

Wednesday afternoon,  marked the reappearance of the sun and clear blue skies.   This change in weather seems to have woken up the living creatures of the vast ocean from their apparent slumber. Yesterday I spotted an albatross flying gracefully over the wide expense of water at close proximity to this ship.  Today two whales, probably perturbed by the movements of the ship made themselves seen in and out of the sea at brief intervals. They are enormous black sea monsters and no doubt abound in this part of the world.

I have just finished partaking of my midday meal consisting of the usual tough and unrecognizable meat, vegetable soup, dirty, gritty greens and bruised potatoes.  I’ve just weighed myself , subject to these vibrations of the ship and noted that I weigh anything between ten and ten and a half stone. My God, this life of little exercise, regular and almost identical filling meals day after day and regular long sleeping hours seem to be responsible in putting weight on me. That will never do, you must at least be able to recognize me when I come back to you!

Half past two in the afternoon, what are you up to now I wonder? Probably having a meal in the ABC at Bishopsgate, maybe our thoughts are meeting and your ears are burning. So near in heart yet so far in person are we Darling.  Perhaps you’re going straight home to finish a pullover, which you are earnestly knitting while Gisele airs her views on the latest socialist movement and Mummy recounts her experiences that afternoon in an air raid shelter.

Well, Dearest, I’ve had an agreeable surprise! Instead of receiving five shillings, as I anticipated, I was paid ten shillings. Now, that amount is a fortune and as far as I am concerned, will last a long time. All I purchase is pipe tobacco and a shilling tin of jam, which I share with Eric and which lasts approximately one week. There are one or two commodities which I am in great need of now such as soap, but would sooner go without and substitute shaving soap rather than pay ten pence for a fresh tablet at the ship shop.  I could do with a spot of Brylcreem too, as my hair is becoming most uncontrollable, but I would have a feeling that such vital necessities will be brought on board on the occasion of our next call in port.

Souviens toi que je pense toujours à toi, ma chérie.

Ever your husband lover

Raymond

8th October 1940

My Dearest Little Darling,

On the first day of the month, we embarked in the late hours of a mild evening and as no sleeping arrangements had been made, we slept the night on the promenade deck, wrapped in blankets and a great coat. The following morning, on completion of loading our own equipment, the ships gracefully set sail and left the busy docks of Liverpool behind them. At the time, we thought that the lengthy journey that lay ahead of us had begun, but with piloting the immense craft from the narrow and complicated harbour, comparatively very little time had passed before we made a halt at the customs clearing dock for the purpose of loading food stuff and tobacco destined to last the entire journey. In the late afternoon we were on the move again and presently, when the mouth of the Mersey was out of sight, we appeared to be drifting rather than assuming our prospective course.

 On Thursday morning, we were definitely on the move and in the engine room the infernal noise indicated that everything was set for a mighty long journey. It was from that day too that the visiting pageantry of passing crafts and interesting but busy dock yard life gave way to the monotonous scenery of an expense of sea gaping at you from every angle.

 The first few days of the journey, we experienced bitter cold and treacherous weather. Black clouds covered the entire sky and the sea had adopted a dishwater grey colour, occasionally besmirched by white foam caused by angry waves. The climate gradually changed for the best, the clouds were outlawed by clean blue sky responsible for the admirable deep blue colour of the sea and a complete submission of the unruly waves.

 You may be surprised to hear, Dearest Betty, that in spite of this being our 8th day at sea, our destination, direction of journey, speed and notion of mileage are totally unknown to us.  Such secrecy, of course, is directly responsible for fantastic rumours, but as I have no intention of annoying monsieur Le Censor, I shall not dwell further on that debatable subject.

 When leaving the mess on Monday night, I was greatly alarmed to see a red globe confront me in the open.  At first, I was under the morbid impression that the ship was ablaze and was immediately reminded of that uncanny red sky which spread for miles during the tragic raids over London last month. However, my fears were well rewarded when I turned my gaze towards the sky which had assumed an appearance so common in the land of the midnight sun, a truly romantic sunset, unknown in our insular surroundings of England. How I wished you’d been there Darling, to admire such an unprecedented scene. The rough sea we inevitably experienced in particular on Thursday and Friday and which I am glad to relate have not recurred, gave rise to much discomfort and sea-sickness when the rolling of the ship was at its worst, it was a pitiful sight to see so many fellows rushing to and subsequently bent over the rails. Mercifully I suffered no harmful effects but perhaps it would be too early to say that I have proved a good sailor!

 However, we have not fared as badly as the occupants of the destroyers which we have passed on the way, being far lighter and smaller crafts than this liner, they were subjected to disappearing tricks beneath the powerful waves in such a way as to give the onlookers the impressions that they stood no earthly chance of combating against such favorable circumstances,

 On the second day at sea, Eric, Neil, Bill and I were allotted a cabin. The bunks werecomfortable and we managed to draw a pillow, mattress and 2 extra blankets.  The following day, however, much to our regret at the time, we had to evacuate the said cabin to make room for others and open new sleeping quarters in the improvised office. The office in peace-time days was a museum and still retains its actual appearance.

 We now work in shifts of 24 hours and profit by such long breaks in reading as much literature as we can, writing letters to our dear ones we left behind, smoking and sleeping as much as possible, The museum being well ventilated by powerful electric fans, and being fitted with windows on 2 sides, is converted into a most suitable bedroom at night.

 We usually retire at 2100, as lights out is fixed at 2130. We rise in the neighbourhood of 0600 hours so thereby experience at least 8 solid hours in slumber land and we breakfast at 07.45.

 To continue with a typical day’s life nowadays, after breakfast we are given ample time to tidy up our kit, polish our brass as we are not required until 1000 for assembly roll call. For this we line up opposite our boat station and wait there until the colonel has completed his morning inspection. Unless one is either on police duty, centre duty or fatigue, the rest of the morning, after a few minutes of physical training on deck, is spent relaxing in a deck chair. If I am on duty in the office, I stand by in case of work to be done, or else act as the general office dog’s body. Diner is served at 1245 in the afternoon and at 1500 we parade for lifeboat drill, if any, or else relax again until teatime. After tea, time is almost our own unless we are pinched for guard, but that has not happened to me yet.

One point I’ve omitted and a very serious omission too Dearest, if I am on duty, my first task in the morning is to wash the museum floor and stairs leading up to it. The reason I tell you this is to remind you that your husband is gradually learning all the tricks of the charlady’s trade and feels sure that with such qualifications, he’ll never be out of a job after the war! Indeed Dearest, remember that I am hot-stuff at cleaning windows.

On Tuesday we were medically inspected in the following way. We were stripped to the waist, and the medical officer flashed his torch on our navel and then we were dismissed!

 It is fortunate that we have an inexhaustible supply of selected Penguin books for the voyage. These are instrumental in keeping one’s thoughts away from the tragedy of being kept away from home, sweet home, and in particular from those we adore. I have not missed you very much for the first week aboard as we have been so used to seeing very little of each other, Darling, during weekdays and have trained ourselves to look forward to seeing one another on average of one every weekend.  As this is the case, I shall begin to miss you badly soon, especially with the tragic thought in mind that we stand no earthly chance of reunion for some considerable time yet, but Dearest, I suppose we must be brave and face the facts and console ourselves by looking into a peaceful future of everlasting happiness and relive the thousands of happy moments we shared together.

 Every minute of the day I wonder what is going on in London and pray that the Nazi raids have been prevented from doing any further damage. In particular, I pray for your safety and happiness and hope that by now, both you and Mummy are settled down in Hampstead and experience no further worries or dangers.

 Often, during a mild evening, seated on a deck chair, on promenade deck, I think of this voyage in terms of a holiday cruise. I imagine you to be seated next to me, that we gaze into the distant reflection of the moon on the sea, and that we are free from worries and cares and have the feeling of everlasting security.  Maybe we’ll live that evening through in the very near future Darling, and if we keep our fingers crossed we might make that enchanting dream come true,

 Before finally closing, just four genuine little words that always convey my thoughts about you in a nutshell, no matter how far or how long we are parted, I love you Darling. All I live for is the day when we are given the chance of establishing our own home, in which it goes without saying we will find everlasting peace, happiness and security. So, for the time being, Dearest Betty, promise me never to change, to stay as sweet as you are and please take great care of yourself during my absence. I shall always remain,

 Ever your husband lover,

 Raymond 

 Stop press

It is rumoured that our destination will be Hollywood where the Regiment will take part in a film relative to the war of 1940!

 

20th September 1940

 My dearest little darling,

Just a brief note to let you know that I arrived here safely just before 2 o’ clock this afternoon.

The journey to Rickmansworth was very slow, as just as we left Kilburn Station, the sirens howled, I must have missed the all clear. Oh dearest, I kept on thinking about you and wondered how you managed on your travel back to Hampstead. I was relieved to hear that it was a short alarm, but nevertheless I prayed for your safety. 

On arrival at HQ, I was ordered to report to the town hall to draw my tropical kit, Darling you would laugh if you saw me in my tope and tropical suit. I can assure you that they aren’t at all becoming.

 I have spent the rest of this glorious sunny afternoon painting my name on my sea bag but have been feeling frightfully depressed and sad and I felt like hiding myself in a corner to cry.  Everything is so very quiet and peaceful here Dearest and it makes me wild to think that you have to put up with such an unhappy life in London.

There is as yet no sign of your telegram or even of your reply to my last long love letter to you Dearest so heaven only knows when you receive this note and I pray it will reach you soon.

 There is as yet no indication as to when we’re moving, but I understand that we were due to depart tomorrow, but the recent happenings in town have moved the dates forward a few days. But still Dearest Heart, I am still hoping for the best and pray that we shall meet again before very long,

 In the meantime, Honey, look after yourself and try and get used to the roaring guns and the other sounds of the like. I shall be writing a nice long letter to you tomorrow darling in which I shall express all my feelings and love for you, so in the meantime, I close darling Betty and send you all my love and pray for your everlasting safety and peace of mind.  I shall always be your ever loving and devoted happy groom,

Raymond

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