In May 1943, at the Trident Conference in America, Churchill and Roosevelt agreed the invasion of Italy after Sicily and set a date of 1st May 1944 for the cross-channel invasion of North-West Europe – ‘D’ day. Operation Mincemeat appeared to have convinced Hitler that the Allies would first invade Greece and Sardinia, even after the Royal Navy began a heavy bombardment of Pantelleria, the island between Tunisia and Sicily
The Allies had now triumphed in North Africa, taking the critical ports of Tunis and Bizerte on 7th May. On 13th May the remaining Axis forces in North Africa, nearly quarter of a million men, surrendered.
Although Eisenhower had appointed the former Vichy general Giraud as Commander-in-Chief of French forces in North Africa, General de Gaulle arrived in Algiers at the end of the month in a political move to take control of l’Armée Afrique, which far outnumbered his Free French forces. Jean Moulin, de Gaulle’s appointed leader of the French resistance, had succeeded in uniting the networks of northern France into the Conseil National de la Résistance.
On 15th May Stalin announced the dissolution of the Comintern, the Communist international organisation working for world revolution. Britain’s SOE (Special Operations Executive) began giving support to Marshal Tito’s communist partisans, who had wrested large areas of Yugoslavia from Axis control.
In the Atlantic the cracking of the German Navy’s enigma code and new more aggressive tactics were at last ending the devastation of British and American shipping. Admiral Dönitz lost 33 U-boats in May 1943 and withdrew his wolf-packs from the northern Atlantic. In the northern Pacific the Americans took back Attu Island, US territory in the Aleutians, from the Japanese.
The disastrous first British Arakan campaign in Burma ended with no gains and 5,000 casualties since September 1942. However, Britain’s warfare technology was making important steps towards victory. The flight of a Junkers 88 fighter from Denmark by Danish defectors brought the Telecommunications Research Establishment a German radar set that contributed to the development of ‘Window’ radar interference. On 16th May, in the famous Dambusters raid, bouncing bombs were successfully used to breach the Möhne and Eder, killing 1,300 in the flooded Ruhr valley and disrupting industrial production. On 29th May RAF bombers created a devastating ‘firestorm’ for the first time at Wuppertal in the Ruhr – the explosive fire killed more than 3,000 people.
While Chotie adjusted to life among the guns near Bristol Dick was sweating over Pre-OCTU theory work “writing up notes for hours and hours” at Aldershot – “horrible place – nothing but military for miles.” He had made two friends - ‘Chunky’, the ex-chef at the Trocadero and Brian ‘Enoch’, the actor. By 28th April he was doing ‘Gunnery’, “which is pretty cushy” and looking forward to Sandhurst.
At the beginning of May he ‘passed out’ of Blackdown Camp pre-OCTU and 7 days leave at his parents’ home in Pagham, where he was telegrammed Chotie to join him. She didn’t (perhaps distracted by her new officer?). On 17th May there was a large bombing raid on Cardiff, the Welsh capital on the other side of the Severn to Chotie’s station. Since the German bombers often flew up the Severn to reach their targets Chotie’s anti-aircraft battery may well have been involved in the action.
On 23rd May Chotie’s former place of employment, the Beales Department store in Bournemouth, was destroyed by a bomb. Through 1942 Chotie was a trainee window-dresser and, like many of the staff, a night-time firewatcher for the building.
Dick only sent one letter to Chotie that month. It was written on paper from the Royal Military College, Camberley, Surrey - on15th May he had joined the 162nd OCTU of the Honourable Artillery Company, Sandhurst – and posted on Saturday 22nd May:
My Darling Chotie,
It seems ages since I heard from you and as I expect it’s the same with you – here goes.
As you will see from above I’m now at Sandhurst, which is quite a place.
I’ve been so busy the last few days, what with passing out (in more ways than one) at Blackdown and getting settled here, I haven’t had a moment to myself.
I was very disappointed with your inability to make Pagham, but realise what the hell of a journey Bristol is. But why didn’t you send a wire or something? Then I could have come down. Brinner and Diller were home as you probably know. We could have got really stewed – actually we did, but that’s another story. However, we must try again soon. I shall be able to get a week-end here and there, though I expect to be up to my eyes in work. I’ve been very lucky here in getting a room with Chunky* and Brian (my mates …. ) and an excellent servant who knows all the tricks of the trade – and then some.
(Don’t smile at this paper. It’s all they’ve got here, and needless to say they robbed me … Never again). I had a letter from Eric last week! No kidding. He “didn’t want our correspondence to collapse” or some rot or other. The rat. Doesn’t appear over happy, but then he never does.
Is Rosemary** still with you? Lucky Rosemary…. However, all good things come to an end – we’ll be kicked out of this Army before long – I hope.
I haven’t seen a flick for nearly a month, which cuts out that topic of conversation.
We’re allowed to wear civvies in the evenings here, also dine in them, but as I’m couponless it doesn’t really interest me.
So much for Sandhurst. I expect you know all about Bristol by now - all the pubs anyhow.
Diller and I found quite a good one in Chichester. It’s so old it doesn’t have a licence. It’s got some ancient charter from James I or some other bloke which dates back before shame even.
You’re lucky in having some relatives in the neighbourhood – I’ve never been near anyone.
Nothing new at home. Mother’s been offered Gentians (that little Tea Rooms by the Kings Beach) for £100 and is toying with the idea. Mike*** presents the only snag. I’m all for it as we would be able to get buckshee teas on leave. She always has these vague obsessions as well you know. She also wants to make out a thousand in our names (Diller, Bryn & myself) to avoid death duties should she be killed by a stray bomb…. Crazy’s right.
It must be over five months since I saw you last. Have you changed at all Darling? Don’t tell me you’re any slimmer ‘cos I’d never believe anything but my own eyes. I’ve had so many 771’s in the last few days I reckon it would be easier to turn nudist and have done with it. The old British public would raise horrified eyebrows, though you, I should imagine would remain entirely unruffled. (We’ve got a wonderful old oak outside our window. I have to keep stopping to gaze in rapt appreciation …. Must be the artist in me crying out like a voice in the wilderness against some aesthetic repression ….)
Brinner bought another Gigli**** when he was home. I won’t comment on it, as he and Solomon are the only two men in this poor world I would never attempt to criticize.
Have you read ‘Clochemerle’***** yet? Don’t ask for it in a bookshop as they would only give you a pretty old fashioned look anyway.
I spent a day up in town on my way back to Blackdown. Piccadilly was, as usual, full of the usual who keep stopping you which is all very embarrassing, especially for an innocent little boy like myself, in London Town to see the bright lights. I told one of them that she should be paying me, if only she knew me, which annoyed her not a little. I didn’t tell her I existed for Chotie alone.
Well Darling I must close here. Hope to see you soon. I’ll advise you when I can get a weekend.
All my love, Precious
5731671 Officer Cadet Williams R.K.
77 Tp. ‘B’ Sqdn., 100 (Sandhurst) O.C.T.U. R.A.C.
Royal Military College, Camberley, Surrey.
**Rosemary was Chotie’s young cousin I think
***Mike was the family dog
*** Beniamino Gigli was an Italian tenor singer and Solomon was possibly the pianist Solomon Cutner. See letter of 7th February.
****see letter of 11th April.
© Chotie Darling
Dick’s officer training would have included learning from his ‘servant’ how an officer should speak, walk and eat. Before WW2 the British Army had recruited only ‘gentlemen’ as officers based on character, use of weapons and ability to ride a horse; and , of course, class. Now they were also recruiting officers from the ranks they were still concerned that they should have the ‘competencies’ of gentlemen.