Wallace's Tent on Salisbury Plain

Wallace's Tent on Salisbury Plain
Writing a letter with candle on clipboard, see Oct. 16 letter

Monday, July 11, 2011

November 19, 1944 Sunday

Somewhere in France

Dearest Sherlock,

Your letter of the 31st of October has just reached me – the letter in which you wrote about the country around Salisbury. Since I am now longer in that country, even, I can tell you that you were “right in every particular” (as old Grandsir John used to say). The places and towns you wrote about are quite familiar to me, and I am very glad that you, too, know about them now. I think from your letter that you can see how thrilling it was for me to be actually in that country. In your list of towns you not mention the little village of Tidworth.

I did not get to visit the cathedral at Winchester, tho I did come near it, and the skipper on “my” LST said that he had been there and was quite impressed.

Your sketch of the Salisbury cathedral is perfect. I can show you on it just how I went through the place. It was really very striking and awe-inspiring. I do hope Miss Ackerman can use the Stonehenge pamphlet – actually Stonehenge wasn’t 25 miles away, I cheated on that because I couldn’t imagine describing it without naming it!

And now, here I am or here we are with another whole country to assimilate just as we get together on the other. And I have so much to tell you, Honey. I have so much to tell and perhaps you can “Sherlock” the rest as you did in England.

Our trip over was very comfortable – at least for my crew. We came with the vehicles. The rest of the outfit came in other boats for personnel – fast and crowded and uncomfortable. We took quite a few days, set some time at anchor outside the harbor, lived in excellent quarters, ate well, and were not crowded. Moreover we came to a camp all set up by the time we arrived after a long convoy from the port.

I have told you in a V-mail letter how we lived in pup-tents, except for the officers, and how I lived with Mme. Legrand for a few days. I don’t believe I mentioned that at long last we have caught up with Gino Forchielli. It was good to see him again. Now, with Olevine’s replacement, 1st Lt. John Trusley of Tennessee, our officers’ staff is complete for once.

Now the picture has changed completely again. The company has moved about 15 kilometers to a small town. We have the whole town in which to billet our company. Our mess hall is in the rear end of the local café, the 1st and 2nd platoons are billeted out here at the largest farm in town – about a kilometer from the church. The other platoons and sections are separate in other farms. This wide dispersion makes a unique situation that I like. It makes Lt. Fairbairn a small dictator in town – there are about equal number of civilians and C Company men. It makes we platoon leaders quite responsible. We make our own platoon schedules and devise our own training. We look after our own billets and guards. For the first time my platoon is a unit by itself, unfettered by a larger unit right nearby. We have to take our half-tracks to get to chow!

Lt. Forchielli and I live together in a big room of the excellent main house of the estate on which both our platoons are billeted. It is by far the best quarters we have had this side of the Atlantic. The men are in lofts and barns nearby.

In England, historical places and big events caught your attention. Here it seems to be a country of small people and everyday life. Peasants working as they have done for years, following customs and living very much to themselves. They are not conscious of their antiquity as are the English, but their life is full of tradition, and much more “human” than I found life in England. I have become the company “interpreter” and so have had a lot of chances to get acquainted with the French people. The mayor and his “assistant” are great friends of mine, and many others. They are extremely warm and friendly and expressive. I have no trouble understanding them and am getting more fluent every day. I shake hands, wave them when I talk, exclaim “en effet” or “oui, oui, oui” with the best of them. They like to talk to me and get a kick out of my French, which is understandable but a bit weird in spots.

Today I looked after such things as these. I told a man with a machine for making cognac, not to sell or give any to “C” company men during the day. I arranged for a detail to attend a funeral for a French soldier tomorrow. I began diplomatic relations with the café owner, and tested his Calvados. Same for the owner of this estate. He is an only son, and rich. He treated me politely, and we had a fine talk – but I think he will require a little handling before I get him in line. It’s understandable why he isn’t enthusiastic for 200 men to take over his farm, but the other people realize the necessity and willingly give all they can. He is a little too rich for that. That is the trouble with being rich. “Where your treasure is, there your heart is also.” This rich man is the first person I have met in France that I didn’t like at once. He is too busy staying rich to be friendly.

Well, I cannot tell you everything in one letter, I can see that. It’s late already. I have much more to tell you, tho, Honey, so I’ll write again just as soon as I can. I cannot tell you how much I love you and how much I appreciate your wonderful letters. They mean everything to me. Be strong, Bunny, I love you very much.

Your Wallace

November 17, 1944 Friday

Dearest Honey,

Am I having fun speaking French, and getting acquainted with the French people. I am with my platoon all day, but each night I go to the local café to talk with the owner, M. André Boust and drink his excellent cider. I come back early and talk with Mme. Le Grand Legrand, and then O’Brien and I sit by her fire and write to “nos femmes.” Her husband is a prisoner of the Germans and she can write only 25 words a month to him. I think I will continue to go to the same café and gain their friendship. Then I may learn more of real French village life.

I got a letter today! Dated November 1 – wonderful to hear from you again. V-mail is all we are getting now. It is ever so much faster than regular mail.

I live in a typical French home – thatched roof in part, but mostly “en adois” – like slate, and made of a sort of stucco (argil). It is over 100 years old and the family has lived in it for many generations. Lamps are the only light. There are apple trees in the yard, and several hens that run all over, including my room! Generally it is very much as we studied in school – Miss Thomson was right! They even have a “market day” and Mme. Legrand walked 5 kilometers in the rain to buy some meat. They all have stories of the occupation to tell. It’s a big experience for me – wish only that we could share it better.

All my love,

November 16, 1944 Thursday

Somewhere in France

Dearest Honey,

Again I cannot tell you the thousands of details of things that I have seen and done. I have left England, and am now in France. I commanded an LST [Landing Ship, Tank] with around 130 men on the way over. I am now billeted with Lt. O’Brien in a French home, having a great time working out my French on the land lady and local cafe owner. It works surprisingly well. French cognac and cider are all they promised it to be. No wine, however! The country is interesting beyond words, with signs of the German occupation and evacuation all around. The French people are much more enthusiastic over us than the English.

And Bunny, I think of you and love you every minute. You cannot imagine how fine it makes me feel to know you are there. I promise to write all I possibly can, for I don’t want you to worry – I love you more than anything.

Always all yours,

November 8, 1944 Wednesday

Dearest Honey,

The dope here tonight is that Frankie is still in good standing for another four years. That should give him time to patch up the world. What will the Republicans do now that their fair-haired boy has come and gone?

The situation here is normal – our first snow came today. The slushy, muddy kind that doesn’t please anybody. I had my moustache trimmed up a little yesterday – it is now just about the way I want it; not too big, not too small.

Another gap has come in your letters, so I am waiting for an armful someday to make up for it.

Actually, honey, there is so little I can talk about now that it is hard for me to write. I am pretty well “saturated” by military things that aren’t letter topics, and I don’t have the outside activities to get my mind from them to more acceptable topics.

I have tried our remedy of thinking over things we have done, and succeeded a couple of times in getting downright homesick. Most of the time it makes me feel good, tho.

Tonite Buck and I went to an American movie up at the mess hall. Lionel Barrymore in “Three Men in White” – fairly good. Coming to our tent we wished like everything we were back in the states, and discussed our chances of getting back. Even if the fighting is over soon, we dismally figured it would be some time. We would have cried in our beer, if we could get any beer. Knowing this was not possible, we just came back and are getting ready to crawl into our sleeping bags.

The tallow you will probably see on this paper – if it photographs, that is – is from the candle I am writing by. Makes me feel like Abe Lincoln, somehow.

Well, goodnite, Honey. I love you always, don’t forget. And distance or time doesn’t effect it in the slightest, except to make it seem greater and more important.

Every bit of my love,

November 7, 1944 Tuesday

Dearest Bunny,

Well, whom are you voting for today? I can see why a person would not vote for Roosevelt, but not why they would vote for Dewey. However, if you wish to vote for the moustache instead of the cigarette, it’s O.K. with me. I don’t care how confused you are --- ! My money is still on F.D.R. for lack of a better man.

I am being real virtuous today, and writing to Laura and the folks. Also I sent out four Xmas cards and the “Specialist” to the folks. Pretty good, huh?

It gets colder every day, but we get tougher and tougher. Also now we have a soldier come in every day and clean our tent out. Looks pretty good now.

This quick letter is mainly to tell you I am thinking of you as always. I love you very much.

All yours,

November 5, 1944 Sunday

7 p.m.

Dear Bunny,

Say, wasn’t it a coincidence that you hit on the idea of a “Merry Widow” album, almost at the same time I was re-seeing it in London. It would make a wonderful start for our collection – those melodies mean so much to us. If it’s an Xmas present – thanks loads. Since Oley left I have taken over his company jobs – unit censor, voting officer, orientation officer – in addition to my other duties.

Today is Sunday and a day of duty, but not very strenuous duties. We censored mail almost all this afternoon, then at four I took off to my bunk to catch up on my resting. It was raining just enough to make things drowsy, and boy, I had fun. I suppose about now you are getting settled to listen to our Sunday programs – I’m right with you, anyway; that’s all I’m doing tonite, thinking of you and loving you the way I always do. Let’s be real close.

All my love,

November 4, 1944 Saturday

Dearest Honey,

This is one of those nights when I can’t seem to think of anything to write except G.I. things. And they bore both of us. I fired my carbine this morning. I am duty officer tonight (repaying Bukovinas for his goof turns to us this summer). My platoon is in fine shape. Changed two squad leaders recently, and it was for the best. I am getting so I know the platoon better all the time. I am pretty tired from being out in the cold all day.

Ah, yes, I still have my moustache – fuller and finer than ever. I have found a man in the company, a cook, who keeps my hair cut and whiskers trimmed for two packs of cigarettes a week. That’s six pence a week and a hole in my ration card. I’ll keep the moustache as Exhibit A against those who oppose it back home. It’s a lot better now than it was in the “Two Sisters” picture. I boast.

Now I will move on to another V-form and make a confession that I am sure will make you wonder what I must look like. Continued—

November 4, 1944 Saturday
Hello again, Hon – Experience, you know, is a thing that should not be avoided. I shall now confess to a new experience. On my ration card is a spot to authorize most anything. Since I always buy all I can get, I found myself in possession of a large hunk of chewing tobacco last week. I resolutely set out to give the thing a fair trial. After all, many people chew tobacco and enjoy it. I have broadmindedly been chewing and spitting all week, to the amazement of thousands, including myself. With half a hunk still to go I conclude that the taste of chewing tobacco is quite good. But its use is restricted to the out-of-doors, since if you swallow rather than expectorate freely you get dizzy. Excess expectoration by its own nature further restricts it to society where such action is approved. Except for the taste, it’s a lousy habit! And even the taste isn’t so good.

I am getting tired again; I planned to write three sections tonight, but will have to quit at two. Please excuse me, honey. I’ll go right to bed and dream of you as usual, in my snug sleeping bag – I have one now that zips right over my head and keeps out the cold air. I love you always.

All my love,

Saturday, January 15, 2011

November 3, 1944 Friday

Dear Honey,

I finally managed to get some V-mail forms, and promise to use them all I can. You V-mail has reached me in seven days or less—by far the best method. I hope this goes equally fast. I am glad you are finally getting some of my letters.

Tonite, after officers’ school, I went to a free movie at our semi-cylindrical mess hall, and saw “Flesh and Fantasy”; it was a very good show—almost the first movies I seen here. Did take in a couple at Liverpool.

You mentioned wearing my old leather jacket in today’s letter. Please make use of any of our things like that that you can. I like to think of you having them, too. I am very, very glad that you keep your letters coming even when mine don’t come. They do make us very close together, and next to seeing you, are the things I want most.

After censoring as much mail as I do, I can see that anything I say would be plagiarism—it’s been said every conceivable way, so let me add my own version of “I love you” to the mass now on its way. I do, Hon, awfully.

Your Wallace

November 1, 1944 Wednesday

Dearest Honey,

Was really busy today. Had the company on a hike all a.m., was with Lt. Fairbairn all p.m. cleaning up the payroll, went to a 2-hour long officers’ school tonite, and then censored mail until 11:30, which is now. Lt. Fairbairn and I are the only officers in the Company right now. Tomorrow he goes on a detail, so I will have the company.

Got some more mail from you today, dating from the day you made your speech at Uncle Carl’s birthday party to Oct. 25—which is not long ago—gee, I hope you are getting my mail now, hon. I hate to think of it not coming thru. I am not able to write every day, but I try to make the best average I can.

I appreciate your letters very, very much and am glad they come so frequently, even tho they are scrambled up. I am a little out of the groove as far as writing of “homey” things is concerned. That old G.I. rut takes most of my time and thoughts. I do get in just a little reading every now and then. I have a little manual on psychology, and a popular book on logical thinking about social problems. I really don’t get anywhere in them, just read them to keep from forgetting that there are things that are not G.I. Those books and your letters are about the total of civilian contacts I have.

I love you, honey, and hope our “future” will not be long in coming.

All my love, Bunny,

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

October 31, 1944 Tuesday

Hello Hon,

Here we are all alone again tonite. I just got back from our now nightly officer’s school. Buk and Young are in London, Oley is in the hospital and here am I by myself in a messy tent. By the way, Oley is going to have a hernia operation that will take at least 10 weeks to recover from, so he is being dropped from the company with only dreams of ever getting back to it. That’s really bad, because he is a good worker, and my best pal in the 56th. I guess the fact that he is a college man, too, gave us something in common. We were the only “C” company officers who have been.

Lately I have been doing a lot of side jobs in addition to leading my platoon. These extra duties certainly make a liberal education of being an officer. Today I had the company payroll to get at the finance office—some 1700 pounds. Then I became the inventorying officer for our P.X. I had to oversee an inventory of the entire stock, make out a lot of forms, count all their money and swear that the place was financially sound and operating efficiently. They evidently thought I was from the inspector general or some such, because they gave me all the respect due him. I guess I made them think I knew what I was about. All I did was look reserved and businesslike and see that none of the papers I signed was incriminating. Tomorrow I may have to have to see that the engineers are building their bridges right! Of course, I am always advising our mechanics on how to run our motor pool. It’s wonderful, being expected to be an expert on everything—you have to learn fast to keep from getting into an embarrassing situation!

More on the side than anything, I have been reviewing the employment of my platoon. Officer’s school each night gives me a good chance to keep up on theory and most every day I get plenty of practical work in handling the platoon. Armored outfits have big platoons and there are a thousand things to keep in mind. Men, vehicles, weapons, tactics, security, etc., etc. Sometimes I wish I had certain parts of those notes you said you have been reviewing.

Tonite I finally got some paper to wrap your Xmas gift in. Please forgive the roughness of it all, it’s the best I could do. I only hope they reach you in good condition, and soon! I’ll get that little book off to the folks when I can, but I know you’ll look after the folks in case something goes wrong. Remember to get Bob a diary as a gift, as well as some other little thing. Make them all know that I am thinking of them for Xmas, but just can’t send much but my love. That goes particularly for Grammy, too. I’ve been several weeks trying to get yours in the mail.

My bedtime gets earlier and earlier as it gets colder and colder. Get very sleepy in the air all day. I love you, Honey, more than I can ever say.

Every bit of my love,

October 29, 1944 Sunday

Dearest Bunny,

Here I am again, and with more to say than I can ever cover in an orderly manner. So please let me wander along saying whatever pops into my mind. Eventually I may cover everything.

I have been in London for the last three days. All by myself, but not nearly as lonely as you would think. In fact, it seemed good to have a little privacy and solitude after the too-communal life of the army for so long. Gave me a chance to “catch up” with myself. Necessary to get re-oriented every now and then. I appreciated being alone, too, after traveling in convoy where you have to mentally pull so many men and vehicles along with you. Had only me to worry about, so I could fly about very easily most anyplace. At that, I managed to leave my field bag in the train with most of my toilet articles – you can see I wasn’t thinking at all about appendages.

Oh, I was homesick a couple of times and thought about you being there most all the time. We would have done the same things, and had much more fun. But I preferred not to go with another officer because so few of them like to do just the things we do. You seemed very close to me all thru it, Hon. You were the closest thing to a companion I had – and you did very well, for I wasn’t lonely.

I went to London aboard a special train Thursday morning. Narrow little foreign trains, like the one that Sydney Greenstreet slept in in “The Mask of Dimitrios.” Remember? With the compartments? They ride as easily as our trains. By the way, “Dimitrios” is in London now – that makes Louisville, Abilene, and London that I have seen it advertized in.

Nicely enough, we were in a “London Fog” all day, so I didn’t see much scenery on the way in. Censorship won’t let me describe how London’s buildings have changed since the war started. Too bad. Anyway, when I got in to Waterloo station I took a taxi to the Jules Hotel. The taxi had right hand drive and all to make it seem English. I felt like Dr. Watson riding all alone in the rear seat. Over the Thames, to Picadilly Circus, to the hotel, now run for officers by the Red Cross. I signed in, settled into the most luxurious place I’ve been in in England. Sheets! A mattress! A hot bath! A flush toilet! I reveled in my room until I felt civilized. When I first arrived the shoe shine man thought I was just in from France, from the mud on the high-cut boots.

It was pretty well into the afternoon when I got fit to appear in public. The fog and the hour made sightseeing impossible on Thursday. So I had the people at the Red Cross arrange for me to see the Sadler Wells Ballet that evening. I took a walk around Picadilly, and had another one of those suffocating “Teas” at the Marble Hall Café. I entered the damn thing thru a rear door that took me into the Hall – very, very ornate and all of marble, -- by way of the stage! I was in the center of the stage before I knew where I was, so I continued in a stately manner on down a wide flight of maroon carpeted stairs. I tried to look like King George, because he is the only person that could have entered in such a conspicuous way. You see, there was a line maybe a block long waiting for tables at the normal entrance! Once in, tho, they couldn’t think of a thing but to give me a table. A little cart with teeny sandwiches came by, -- I took three. Then a cart with pastries – the kind we thought New Orleans should have. I regally pointed out the two I wanted, and they put them on my plate with a pair of big tweezers. Then a pot of tea came, and a pot of hot water to mix with it for the second cup. Didn’t have to order, it just came. I was the only American there! It was very, very – rawther!

I have yet to get a real meal from the English. I did get a lot of those pastries, like big tarts, or buns, or layer cake while in London, but no meals. Result of the war, no doubt.

Returning for my tickets, I found that the Ballet was sold out and that they had substituted tickets for – guess what? – The Merry Widow! I was pleased at the idea and took off at once to a 15 shilling seat – one of the best! It started at 6:15 and was over at 9. Blackout makes all theatres start by 6:30 or 6:45 anyway. The production was a lot like the one we saw – about on a par with it. The main difference was that Danilo was chiefly a dancer not a singer like Wilbur Evans (or was it Maurice?). He looked like an English version of Fred Astaire. Very graceful all thru. They put in a long boring mess of English slapstick in the second act, that was well left out in Boston. I sat right next to the horn and appreciated the music very much. “Vilia” was not as beautiful as Kitty Carlisle did it. Madge Elliot didn’t have the clear voice for it. It had a thousand memories, so you can imagine whom I was missing like the very dickens when I groped my way home in the fog and dark and went straight to bed. As in Boston, the music carried the play.

I didn’t mention that the theatre was very high with several tiers of boxes. They sold song sheets instead of souvenir programs, and they used a revolving stage that allowed quick changes of scene.

Friday morning I set out to do London with our tested and approved system. First I took a taxi tour of the main points. Took two hours, and we rode with the top of the taxi down. Was in a group of 5 soldiers. We saw all the things you’ve heard of in London—Fleet Street, Dickens’s “Curiosity Shop,” St. Paul’s Cathedral (no more impressive than the one near our camp), Big Ben, Westminster Abbey where just about everybody is buried, and the other places named on the sheet I will send you. It would take a book to tell about each one. It was all intensely interesting.

After the tour, I looked way ahead to evening, and decided to see another play. From such plays as “Uncle Harry,” “While the Sun Shines,” “Arsenic and Old Lace,” “Blithe Spirit,” “Peer Gynt,” I decided to try to get into the “sold out” production of Hamlet. Nothing low down about me. They said it was impossible, so I went directly to the theatre and squeezed out a single seat in the centre of the first balcony for 5 shillings, 6 pence. It was still morning so I went to the National Gallery of Art at Trafalgar Sq. They have only war pictures there now. After an hour or so there I left and looked all thru the many book stores on Charing Cross Road. Found a small copy of Hamlet and bought it. Felt very, oh so very, cultured when I returned to the National Gallery at one p.m. to hear a piano-violin recital and read away on Hamlet. But we know how hard Shakespeare is if you are not brushed up on it before hand. The concert was fine, too. Seemed wonderful after living in the mud so long. Quite a contrast!

After the recital, I took the “tube,” or subway, to the Tower of London. I saw it in the morning tour and had decided it was the place I’d most like to see in detail. Still following our system, you see. I saw it from top to toe, all the time looking for Anne Boleyn with ‘er ‘ead tooked underneath ‘er arm. Saw where she was beheaded, and all, but I guess she was out. Saw where Raleigh was imprisoned so long – (Read of that in Benet’s “Western Star”) and many other sights. The tower was built in the time of William the Conqueror!

Had a chance to breeze thru the whole of Hamlet before the play started at 6:30. It was wonderful. The scenery was simple, as it should be, but the acting and costumes were excellent. I caught every word, and am still remembering whole speeches from it. It was better than our “Falstaff” in “King Henry IV, Part II.” The play is full of life, seems natural, and gives meaning to a lot of lines that read only as so many words. Polonius was quite a humorous character, and they made several incidents really funny. Of course, Hamlet was a very complex character and you could speculate on him all night. It was a revelation of how Shakespeare still makes fine entertainment if you get him away from the “scholars.” Hamlet’s soliloquies were so engrossing that the whole house, tho packed, was as silent as a church, during them. [John Gielgud as Hamlet, Theatre Royal, Haymarket]

I slept late Saturday morning, I was so comfortable in a real bed. I had to hurry to get out to Buckingham Palace in time to see the changing of the guard. I just made it. It is very pompous, precise, and impressive. The British click their heels on the pavement as they march, so you can hear them tramp out each command. “About Face,” and you hear stamp, stamp, stamp, as they bang their feet on the stones. The band was of the best.

An American outfit was holding a review nearby, and we didn’t lose a thing in comparison to the Royal Guard. I think we are better in precision and snap, but lack the heavy dignity the British seemed to have.

Then I checked out and set out regretfully for camp. It was a great experience, and had given me a chance to rest up and get “on the beam” again. Seemed too short, tho.

I have already told you that the British are very politically conscious, and the social & political tracts find a good market on the streets. I bought a couple of small manuals on psychology—one on “Personality,” one on the “Inferiority Complex” to read on the way to camp. Soon after a man came up to me and said that he was interested in psychology, too. He talked with me for some time about British clinics and educational ways. He thought they should have more, but it seemed to me that the British were more conscious of the need for both clinics and adult education than we are.

On the train I have a long talk with a British aristocrat about the war and postwar problems. He told me how the British “socialized medical system” works. He was against it, as you might expect, and against the whole trend of social planning. And he justified himself well. I didn’t disagree with him because it is so hard to get the British to talk freely that I didn’t want to risk shutting him off. He was a conservative. In the U.S. he would be a devout republican. He commanded a battalion in the last war, so we talked over military things, too. Differences in British and American organization, etc.

Then I got back to camp and into the routine of camp once more. Today I am O.D., spending my time by the fire in the guardhouse. Just got my weekly P.X. ration, and that is giving me the bad habit of buying everything they will let me have. May lead to catastrophe if I ever get free in a 5&10 when I get back!

I meant to say earlier that your letters are coming thru swell now, seven to 10 days. And that they are appreciated just as much as you can imagine them to be. I love you so much, Bunny, and it makes me feel very confident and happy when you write and say that you love me and know I love you. You can always have that faith, honey, and I will always be equally sure that you love me. It makes everything all right when I know that we always have each other, even tho we aren’t together. It makes living alone very bearable. “I’ll Walk Alone” is a true theme song for these days; fits us perfectly. I’ll always walk alone, and love you until we can walk forever together. So long again, my Bunny. You are the best wife in the world. I am glad and thankful I was the lucky person to be your husband.’

Always all yours,