8th October 1940

by Louise

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!

 

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