While Chotie was still training for Ack-Ack in Oswestry Dick had a major career change. On 4th March he left 43rd Reconnaissance to begin training as an officer. Before Sandhurst and the Officer Cadet Training Unit (OCTU) he was a pre-cadet at Alma Barracks, Blackdown, near Aldershot in Hampshire for several weeks, missing out on Exercise Spartan, the first full-scale training exercise for invasion. (His old unit, 43rd Recce, were on the Allied side while his future unit, 61st Recce, including our friend Eric Postles, played Germans in occupation.)
“The old spit & polish here is murder, have to change to best Battle Dress for every meal”…. “We’re on parade from 6 am to 7.30 pm. Murder”
Pre-OCTU would last as long as it took to prepare a pre-cadet for Sandhurst.
On Sunday 14th March Dick found time to write Chotie a long letter:
5731671 P/CDT Williams RK
30.0 Tp ‘A’ Sqdn.
No1. Pre-OCTU R.A.C.
Alma Barracks, Blackdown, Hants
My Darling Chotie,
As Sunday has again occurred I find I have a few minutes, to write to you. It seems ages since I heard from you – but I expect you’re in the same position as I am – one of a temporary scarcity of spare time.
I’ve managed to settle down here, as much as is possible anyhow, but find myself pretty rushed off my feet and expect to be the same for the rest of my stay here.
The compensations, such as they are, consist of such luxuries as hot water, showers, marvelous food, and plenty of clothing exchanges.
There’s a whole harem of ATS here – they do all the admin. Duties, office work, driving, etc. They never seem to do any parades, apart from one Church Parade per month. Pretty cushy.
(I must make an apology here for using this paper, but I’m fed up with using poky little writing-pads.) I rather fancy that this letter will read like a young novel. However, I resume.
The instructors here are all Guards N.C.Os. Coldstream, Grens*, Irish, Welsh etc and aren’t too bad on the whole. We get a helluva lot of square-bashing, much too much for me, anyhow, as I reckon I’ve had enough after nearly three years in this racket.
I expect you’re getting interested in the leave problem – and what a problem! I only wish I could get mine, but I’m afraid I’ve missed it and certainly won’t get any until after this nine weeks.
The real job starts at Sandhurst, but there you get a batman and are allowed a collar and tie(!) even though still a cadet – but that’s a long time yet.
I can get week-end passes from here – provided I’m not on duty, but it’s a lousy journey and the fare would be well over a quid. On top of this there’s the fact that you need every available moment to blanco** and keep your notes up to date. What a tale of woe! – anyway that’s about enough of my troubles.
I suppose you’re quite the old soldier by now. You won’t, however, be able to give me any old buck as I know the ropes. You should get a better time when you get on a site somewhere – the initial training is always the stiffest, and the most boring.
Needless to say, I don’t get any time to read here, and I gather it’s the same with you.
Happily, I’m with quite a bright crowd – an actor (ham), medical student, couple of school-marms, buyer from Lewis’ Leicester, art student and several other buckshees.
I met LISBY here; do you know him? Rather fat, blond, used to work at Bank in Broadstone and ARP at Municipal Buildings. Went to Poole Grammar. He’s a pre-cadet for the Tank Corps. (I seem to be rambling on, all to no purpose).
Heard Ruth Naylor*** (waltz-song from Bohème) on Naafi Radio this morning. Pretty wonderful.
I miss my friend Alex**** from the 43rd. Like Eric we had much in common, particularly opera. I promised to write, but then no one ever does.
The ham here knows lots of people we knew on the London stage, and every night-club in Mayfair. He knows enough about such people as Daphne du Maurier, Michael Redgrave, Noel Coward, etc to blackmail them a hundred times*****. Comes out with some rather indelicate tales after lights-out. (I’m thinking about taking this letter up with a publisher).
Had letters from home yesterday – no news. Brinner’s on a course somewhere. Diller is still expecting to do something. Expecting is as far as it will get.
How’s everyone at Parkstone? Give them all my best wishes when you write won’t you?
Well, Darling, I must close here as its nearly lights-out and they’re pretty mustard on that sort of thing.
Hope I can see you before very long. I can’t tell you how much I miss you, Chotie, that would be quite impossible, but I do think about you and love you very, very, much. Perhaps, this wretched show will end sooner than either of us imagine and we can be together again. I’m much more interested in that than any b----- commission.
God bless you, Chotie
**Blanco was a cleaning compound used on the cotton of army uniforms.
***Ruth Naylor was an Australian soprano, famous for her appearance in Puccini’s opera La Bohème.
****Alex Johnston – see letters for January and February 1943.
*****Practising male homosexuality was illegal in Britain at this time. Daphne du Maurier’s bisexuality has not been confirmed. She was Dick’s favourite writer and married to his former Commanding Officer in the Air Landing, Frederick ‘Boy’ Browning.
© Chotie Darling
“This wretched show”:
On 1st March 1943 American Jews held a mass rally in New York to pressure their government to do more to help Jews in Europe. Heinrich Himmler visited the concentration camp at Treblinka in eastern Poland and gave orders for the mass murders there to be covered up.
On 13th and 14th March 1943 the Nazis ‘liquidated’ the remaining Jews they had forced into the Krakow Ghetto in southern Poland, shooting 2,000 in the street and deporting 3,000 others to nearby Auschwitz-Birkenau. Newly built gas chambers were put into operation at Auschwitz, the largest Nazi death camp where one million people were murdered during the German occupation.
In the same month German Army officers from the Russian front made two failed attempts to assassinate Adolf Hitler. The Soviet Army and Air Force were now better equipped than the Axis powers on the eastern front and far outnumbered them. However, the Germans were still successful in re-taking the old Ukrainian capital city of Kharkov on 14th March.
Allied bombers focused their first attacks of the Battle of the Ruhr, beginning in March, on German armaments production in Essen.
In Tunisia Rommel failed in an attack from the Mareth line and left Africa on 9th March. Montgomery’s British Eighth Army followed up with a successful attack on the line, winning the battle by 26th March.
The largest convoy battle of the war began on 16th March in the Atlantic with three wolf-packs of U-boats converging on 100 Allied ships and succeeding in sinking 22 with the loss of only one U-boat. On the other side of the world Australian and American planes achieved a landmark victory against the Japanese fleet in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea but Britain’s guerrilla force in Burma (the Chindits) was forced to withdraw to India with the loss of one third of their men.
In London there was tragedy on the underground at Bethnal Green on 3rd March when 173 people were killed in the crush when panic set in.
The “wretched show” continued for another two years….