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.
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.
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.
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,