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,