Although tonight’s object is a letter written by a US Army sergeant, it seemed appropriate to include on our British and Empire blog because he is writing back to a family in England with whom he had been billeted and he has some interesting reminiscences about life in wartime England so I hope you will forgive this slight detour from our usual subject matter.
I picked up this letter and its associated paperwork a few weeks ago, the envelope addressed to a Mr and Mrs Herbert Swales of Drighlington:Inside is a letter, two post cards, two New Year’s Greeting cards and a photograph of an American soldier, presumably the sender of the letter:The letter inside reads:
My dear Bert and Marjorie and gang
It has been quite some time since I left your country and quite a lot has happened. I want to assure you folks that my long procrastination in writing does not mean that I have not thought of you people many times, and always these thoughts gave me a sweep of nostalgia just to think of it.
Bert, many is the time I’ve thought of our “mild and bitter” binges and really longed to do them again. Remember our escapades to one of the “locals” and coming back and try to explain just where we had been and what we’d been doing? And then the eating championships where Frank could always win with so much ease? Also the long lazy afternoons spent trying to stay stretched out in the sun. I’ll never forget those evenings at the “spotted” and at the “‘are and ‘ounds” where everyone joined in the singing. Boy, oh boy, those were the days!
We were in France until the middle of September. That period was one of living in dirt floated tents with no water to spare for even drinking for 3 or 4 days at a time, but I did get into Paris for two days now and then before we moved on into Germany. We were located on an old Luftwaffe field near Munich and had started to get it pretty well operative when the really rough weather set in. My duties were in keeping radio contact with our aircraft. In December I went to Berchtesgaden on a two day pass and was snowed in for a week- those were winds that did some good.
At Berchtesgaden I got a chance to look over Hitler’s Eagles Nest, and to do some deer hunting- didn’t see any deer though. Then I got back to the base just in time to get in on a trip to St Moritz in Switzerland.
The winter season was just opening at St Moritz and many of the “elite” of Europe were there. Those are the people it’s pretty hard to stomach. It seemed that most of the moneyed people who found it unsafe to be in their own countries had come to St Moritz. I want to tell you about one incident that gave me a bit of amusement.
It seemed that certain people decided it would be “nice” of them to be somewhat accommodating to allied soldiers. Several of us went to the Embassy Club at the Palace Hotel for the evening. I had a dance with a Bernice Sheissen whom I came to understand was Fritz Sheissen’s daughter. So I proceeded to introduce an obviously Jewish Lieutenant to the party, and the response was a really tense one. The lieutenant did an admirable job of politely “putting them in an uneasy situation”. He and I had quite a laugh over it afterwards. I must admit I did get quite a fiendish satisfaction out of it.
As a whole however, the people I met in Switzerland were really nice to meet. The time there was spent mostly in skiing. I’m not much of a skier but certainly had a lot of fun- I find it quite a thrill to come down a mountain on skis when you don’t just know what they are going to do. When I got to going too fast all I had to do was fall down. Skiing to me has always been one of those things that one admires- but never does (I haven’t changed my opinions)
When I got back to my base, I found I was assigned to go to Biarritz, France to get some “book learning”. I guess they figured I needed some sense pounded into me. So here I am. Tho’ hard to imagine that all this could happen in such a short space of time- and further that it could all happen to me.
My studies at the university here are in the field of international trade and finance, also a course in problems of world peace. It’s quite a comedown to learn how little I really did know. This is really like a “break” for me. We are billeted in a modern hotel, and although there is not much heat, the weather is usually fair. I find the instructors here to be quite good. They are mostly older professors from the various colleges and universities of the United States. Most of them are civilians on leave from their institutions, but a small number are ex-college professors who were in the army. I am amazed that the army was able to get the staff it has here. One of my instructors was on the staff of the League of Nations Secretariat and taught for a while at the University of Geneva. Another was on the production board of our country during the war, before that he taught business methods at Eastern Americans University. Another is a Canadian professor who was for some years in the US Treasury department.
I must admit that they keep you busy. I don’t have the spare time to look over this part of the country as I would like. I imagine I could take the time but then I want to get as much out of this opportunity as possible.
I am enclosing a picture of Konigsce Lake near Berchtesgaden and also I’ll send you the New Year’s card I got there and didn’t send because it was after New Year when I got to where I could post it. I decided not to send it but just to show you I thought of you folks I am going to send it anyway. The only postcards I’ve been able to get in Germany were these. I guess they didn’t make any for a couple of years and they were sold long ago. So as a result I was not able to send out greetings cards. As long as I still have them though I was going to send them on. I’ve got one for Ella and Tommy and the Websters too. I’ll send Mary’s to you because I always think of one of your household- she lives so close and you’re spending half the time in each other’s houses anyhow. I hope this is alright with you Mary. If I sent it through the mail to you I’d have to do all this explaining over again, or you might think me more crazy than I really am.
Will you write and tell me what’s going on. Where are Tommy and Ella going to live? Who is Frank’s new girl now? Has Elizabeth been out eating ground berries again?
Please give my best regards to Mrs Hudson and the folks at the Spotted.
My sincere regards to all of you and I hope I may see you all again.