Letter written on Wednesday 1st and Thursday 2nd September 1943
Wednesday (nearly Thursday)
My Darling Chotie,
It’s a long time since I’ve written to you at this time of night, but I find myself with two others operating a wireless for three days and nights and this being the first I thought it would give me a golden opportunity to send you a young novel – so here goes.
The remainder of the troop are out on a three days exercise and we are maintaining contact with them the whole time. The system, as it stands sounds quite fun but unfortunately we are not allowed to sleep as those on the exercise aren’t able to.
This little discrepancy is, however, compensated by the fact that I get a weekend on Saturday, so things aren’t really too bad. Diller will be home I believe so she’ll have a glorious chance to moan to her hearts content, an opportunity I know she won’t be slow to seize.
Came back from 48hr scheme yesterday, just about all in. This wireless* is murder, it’s not only the mental tiredness you get, but also chronic headaches owing to the headphones which have to be worn continually. I’ll spend the week-end in bed – lonely and cold ….
We’ve managed to scrounge some cocoa and milk, also a shave, so we have hopes of something hot soon.
Weather here is typical autumn – lots of mist and rain and last night a beautiful sunset, one of the best I’ve ever seen. The trees – hundreds of them here are just beginning to turn – though it’s early yet. It will be lovely by the time I leave – always presuming I don’t leave prematurely …
We have a pretty sound wireless officer, one of the pleasant slavedriver type who works all hours from morn ’til night and expects the whole troop to do the same…Luckily he likes his pint and consequently we always find ourselves some hundred yards from the Duke of Wellington for lunch and he always stands the troop a pint apiece. God knows how much it must cost him.
I was talking to the publican who says that the present Duke (who lives in the neighbouring estate – Stratfield Saye) is quite a pleasant bloke – Captain in the Commandos in Sicily and always goes to the pub when on leave to play darts with the farmers. Apparently he’s about 30**.
Did I tell you that Dad went up to Purley*** to see all the relations? It’s the first time he’s seen his father for about five years! Awful isn’t it? Apparently things have changed quite a bit. Gramp now looks his years – he’s about 78, which he never has done before and has slowed up considerably. Cyril (Dad’s brother) took him on a trip which included all the most dubious of London’s night clubs.
They all expect me to go up (after Brian going, of course) but I still prefer to go home, or if possible come down to see you. (I still owe you about a dozen spankings…****)
However, he did see them, they were all very pleased, and that’s that – for another five years anyhow.
Incidentally is there anything I can get you for your Birthday? I haven’t had a chance to get out for ages, and you can’t do anything on schemes. Let me know – and if there’s no chance of my getting it, I’ll send you some shekels*****.
The ATS are a better crowd than I thought, despite their being mostly Generals’ daughters. The one I had (not literally….) yesterday did all the cooking for us – and did it very well – probably because they were scared of letting us do it, as they have to eat it as well. I managed to get her a room in a farmhouse and she managed to get me half-a-dozen eggs so we had quite a happy time. She comes from Kent of course – Pett’s Wood – about a mile from Orpington†. We had several common friends. I should say friends in common – there’s a subtle difference….
I still haven’t had an FFI†† – you really must organise another meeting…See what you can do. I always get atrociously rude this time of night – at the moment I’m thinking awful things. I couldn’t even tell you…
That’s enough of this – I’d better do some wireless for an hour or two.
Well, I’ve done some morse – over an hour in fact and have just been relieved. Still feel the same. Good thing I’m not in the Bristol area.
Read Deeping’s ‘Two Black Sheep’ on the scheme and also “Fanny by Gaslight” again (Michael Sadleir) which I’ve always thought an awful lot of. It’s the finest picture of Victorian England of the last ten years and heaven knows there have been enough books on that subject! I’m sure Fanny would get the same hold on you as she has on me.
Won ten bob on a little side bet last night. Bill said it was Tchaikovsky’s ‘Casse Noisette’ and I said it was ‘Eugen Onegin’ and Eugen Onegin it was†††. Just as easy as that. Wish money was always so procurable as that 10 bob.
It’s now nearly 2 oclock and we’ve got the water on the boil for some luscious cocoa! Jeez!
My two colleagues have just started to take an interest in things – now that there’s a chance of a hot drink! One is that madman I told you about from Corfe Castle – incidentally his name’s Peter Collins (happy memories?) who still intends to live on Round Island after the war††††. A genuine hermit’s life with just his wife. Notice I say just! This is where I should say “what more could a man want”… (after his pipe of course…Never mind Darling – you come second …)
The other one’s an Oxford law student, pretty nearly broke. Tennis champ of north of England. Quite a good type.
I’ve just had my COCOA(!) and, it’s good. I’ve got a lovely warm feeling in my tummy which I definitely didn’t have before.
Well, Chotie Darling I must close here as I have to go on the set again. I’ll let you know how things went on the weekend and enumerate some of Diller’s moans.
All my love, precious.
Always thinking of you.
P.S. You should read Napoleon’s letters to Marie Louise and Josephine. They’re good….
*Wireless – “not enough emphasis can be put on the importance of communication in battle situations”…Wireless operators needed high quality training “to pick up weak signals against a background of atmospherics and interference” known as ‘slush’. (From ‘Phantom at War’ by Andy & Sue Parlour, Cerberus 2003)
**The Duke of Wellington’s estate at Stratfield Saye near Basingstoke in Hampshire . The 6th Duke of Wellington, Captain of No 2 Commando, was killed in action at Salerno on 16th September 1943 (from Commando Veterans website).
***Purley, near Croydon, South London.
****Possibly referring to Chotie’s involvement with her officer at the Bristol camp earlier that year??
*****slang for cash. Chotie’s 20th birthday was on 6th September 1943.
†Dick was born in Orpington in Kent and spent his childhood there.
††the 'Free from Inspection' inspection for venereal disease (presumably being used by Dick as a euphemism here)
†††Tchaikovsky’s ballet ‘The Nutcracker’ and not his opera ‘Eugene Onegin’.
††††an island in Poole Harbour.
Peter Collins was the name of one of Chotie’s early admirers:
“Peter Collins, the boss’s son, home from Blundell’s, a posh school in Devon, also took a fancy to me and given the chance, we would canoodle in the store room. His mother was very kind to me and I was invited to stay at their lovely house in Talbot Woods for a weekend. Peter had won a scholarship to Blundell’s for his brilliant piano playing and taught me about classical music - a love that has stayed with me all my life.” (From ‘Chotie’s Story’. See also F.W.Collins)
© Chotie Darling
Dick went home to Pagham, Sussex over the weekend of 4th and 5th September and sent Chotie a postcard of Sea Lane, Pagham for her 20th birthday on the 6th September.
His next letter of Tuesday 14th September had news of his brother Brin, now an Officer Pre-Cadet at Wrotham near Sevenoaks, and Dilys, his sister, home from the Pay Corps. Dick was still worried he wouldn’t get an officer posting to the Recce
“They’re over staffed as it is, which has the annoying habit of making them very difficult to please. They cheerfully accept about five in every fifty and the unhappy remainder have to go all through an Infantry OCTU, which takes nearly another five months.” He agreed with Chotie that the news was good (see below) but wrote “We still have the hardest fighting to do”.
Chotie went home on leave again in September to Parkstone, Poole and met up with her best friend Mary Dakin. Her unit moved from Portishead back to Markham Camp, Easton-in-Gordano, sometime in the month and she had two trips to the dentist in September.
Dick was still on “schemes” – training exercises, which went on for a number of days outdoors but had found time to read, see some films and listen to classical music on the radio (mentioned in his letter to Chotie of 28th September).
His future unit, the 61st Recce, were involved in a full scale battle ‘scheme’ with Canadian and Polish troops - Exercise Link.
On 3rd September the Italian government signed a secret armistice deal with the Allies. The same day British and Canadian troops of Montgomery’s 8th Army crossed the Messina Straits unopposed, to land in Calabria on the Italian mainland. This and subsequent amphibious landings by the 1st British Airborne Division at Taranto and Brindisi, on the south-east ‘heel’ of Italy, were intended to divert the Germans from the main Allied invasion south of Naples but did not succeed.
The armistice was announced on 8th September as the Italian Fleet sailed to surrender to the allies in the port of Valetta, Malta. Italian forces in German-occupied territory became prisoners-of-war and German troops rushed south to take up defensive positions against the Italian invasion. When the US Fifth Army including the British X Corps arrived at Salerno the Germans were already in place to meet them. Casualties were terrible as the Allies attempted to break out of the beach-head.
By the 10th of September the Germans occupied Rome and two days later they rescued Mussolini from his prison in the central Abruzzi Mountains. At Salerno the Germans launched a counter-offensive on 13th September, which nearly defeated the Allies but a few days later, with the 8th Army approaching from the south, the German army began to withdraw to defensive positions north of Naples.
On 23rd September Mussolini proclaimed the re-establishment of a fascist government in Northern Italy and Hitler now ordered the execution of all Italians carrying arms in Axis-occupied territory. 10,000 were massacred in Greece for resistance (5,000 on the island of Cephalonia on 24th September).
The Allies' forces from the east and west coast joined up to form a front-line across the country on 25th September and began to head north. (This was an arduous campaign against Italy’s geography – a central ridge of high mountains with wide rivers flowing to east and west, providing natural lines of defence– as well as the Germans.) On 27th September the people of Naples rose up and drove the remaining Germans out of their city ahead of the Allies advance. Marshal Badoglio signed the official armistice with General Eisenhower on 29th September at Valetta, Malta.
Free French commandos had landed on Corsica on 14th September to aid resistance fighters in harrying the Germans withdrawing from Sardinia (duped into arming for an Allied Invasion by Operation Mincemeat) via the formerly French island.
On 18th September the British began an attempt to liberate the Greek Aegean islands with a landing on Rhodes but the Italian troops they were looking to for support had already been arrested.
Jews in Athens and Denmark were now facing the threat of deportation as their countries came under German control. In Denmark, Danish authorities arranged a secret operation to move Jewish citizens into hiding for a safe escape to Sweden while in Athens two-thirds of the Jews escaped with help from the Greek Orthodox church and even the Athenian Chief of Police. The Danish resistance established a shadow administration, ‘the Freedom Council’, on 16th September.
While Sweden remained neutral, Norway had been occupied by Germany since June 1940 and Hitler’s massive battleship, the Tirpitz, was anchored at Kåfjord on the far north coast. On 22nd September a British attack using midget submarines caused enough damage to put her out of action for 6 months.
In eastern Europe the German front-line was now held at the Dnepr river, across central Ukraine, but on 22nd September Soviet troops began to cross despite suffering heavy losses. The Allies were now poised to squeeze Hitler’s Europe between their eastern and western fronts.