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Tim of Aclea
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Posts : 330
Join date : 2011-12-31

20160124
PostWartime Letters

As well as my father's writings which I have now edited into a book, I also found about 50 wartime letters.  These are mostly between my parents during the period that my father was in the Middle east but there are some others as well.  I will past a few which I think provide quite a fascinating insight to wartime life.

The first one is quite short from my father having gone aboard the troop transport in 1942

From 5343206 Pte J Whittle A Coy 2/6 Queens: APO 2005 25th August 1942
Mr Darling Vera,
I am now able to tell you that I am on board ship and I am OK.  I am rather tired but I have just had a shower and shave so feel a little fresher.
It is all quite fun and we are settling down gradually to the new life.  A lot of the boys are already playing cards etc… but I think I will spend my time reading.  I have a few books with me.
I hope you have got all my letters by now, also the two books which I gave Ruth Jennings to give to you.
I am quite happy so far and I am going to make the best of things.
I will write to you as often as I can but do not worry if you go some time without hearing from me.  I will be quite aright just you look after yourself and baby and I will be back with you in due course.
I saw Bill Miles and Jennings just now and we will not be lonely.  I will be spending my first night in a hammock (or out of one) tonight.
Give my regards to all at Prospect Street [Reading where Vera lives] and at Goring [where his parents and younger siblings live].
Cheerio my darling, all my love.
Ever your devoted and adoring husband.
John
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Re: Wartime Letters
Post on Sun 24 Jan 2016, 20:20 by Tim of Aclea
The second letter is much longer, written from India.  Given that he left school at 14 and had only worked as a domestic servant before being called up and had only once left England before (for Ireland), I think it is an incredibly literate and fascinating account of his first impressions of India.

From 5343206 Pte J Whittle A Coy 2/6 Queens: APO 2005 25th October 1942
My Darling Vera,
I am now in India and I am in a transit camp.  I am very well and quite happy,
I shall have a lot to tell you later on darling but at present I cannot tell you a great deal now.
This is Sunday and this morning we had a mass Church parade in the open and at present I am lying on my bed and after finishing this letter I will read then sleep.
Incidentally love it is now 2pm here and in England it is 9am so you are probably having breakfast now.  Last night I went to the bazaar and I bought you a scarf for Xmas, also a table cloth made of silk and cotton and I bought baby a little dress for Xmas.  It will not reach you for two of three months love, but you will get this parcel eventually.
And here is a list of letter etc.. I have sent you so far; two letters from the point of embarkation, one letter from the first port of call, one airgraph and two letters and two parcels and some postcards from the second port of call, also a cablegram.  From the third port I sent you one letter, an airgraph, one postcard and one parcel containing a string of beads for you darling, and two ash trays.  So eventually you should get all four parcels.
I hope you will like what I have sent you darling.  It gives me great pleasure buying things for you and I only wish I could send you more.  I will try later on and get you some silk stockings love and will you when you answer this letter let me know if you would like a pair of sandals and, if so, what size.  Would you also let me know if there is anything particular you would like.  Have a chat with your father and he may be able to help you.
One thing I want to try and get is some tapestry either for hanging on the wall or for a fire screen.  We can only send home parcel of 5lb which are duty free.
The bazaar is absolutely fantastic and we go there and bargain with the natives, arguing over the prices.  Everything here is very cheap and very interesting.
It is really a great education to be able to see what we are witnessing now,  There will be so much to talk about later on when I come back home.
We rarely see a newspaper and I don't really know what is happening in the outside world but I don’t really worry as I have got fed up with the War and all we can do is try and forget it sometimes.
I have not had any mail yet and none of us have heard from home.  We will not get any letters for some time yet and what a great day it will be when we do get some letters.  I have twice dreamt that I have had letters from you since we came here. 
The day after coming here we debugged our beds and yesterday we went for a 'little' route march and I enjoyed it very much indeed.  During the afternoons we sleep or read as it is very hot and in the evening we got out.
There are two or three cinemas and canteens and plenty to do and life is not too bad.  We get four meals a day and get much better food than on the ship.  Natives wait outside the dining hall to collect the scraps of food which we do not eat and take them home to their wives and children.  They seem to be very poor though there are some rich Indians who live in big houses and other who look very learned.
We get paid in Indian money and I get 10 rupees a week which is about 15/. 
Most of the men have a native batman or 'bearer' and he looks after about eight or ten men for 8 annas each, that is ½ a rupee a week.  I am not a batman now as they also have natives in the Officer's mess.
We have fruit sellers coming round the camp and they sell bananas at 2 for one anna, that is about ½d each and limes for 1½d each.  Other natives come round to do our washing at one anna a garment, or to darn our socks or to do our corns, while others bring round tea which the troops seem to consume the greater part of the day.
The meat here seems tough compared with that at home probably due to the scarcity of green pasture.  Also, one misses the green vegetables.  We often have two eggs and steak for breakfast and tea with our dinner.  Eggs are plentiful and I believe it is quite common for the men to have fried chicken when they go out into the village.
The natives live in rather dirty hovels and those who haven’t a home sleep by the wayside.  The native troops are very fine and smart men and the Indian people seem to be very good looking generally and a lot the men are really handsome.
Last Friday I was watching some women working and they were carrying baskets of soil on their heads, children also work here as they do not go the school unless they are high class. 
It is very dry and dusty here and one gets covered in dust along the roadside. 
There is an abundance of donkeys and goats here and native for carts are drawn by oxen.  Garris or two ponies in a trap act as taxis and take the troops to and from the village. 
In fact the British soldier here is a sort of Lord with his bearer who cleans his boots etc and with the barber shaving him in bed and tea in the morning.  One can in fact see what a good thing British rule is in India for the British in India. No doubt this is a wonderful country and it has a great future if it is ruled wisely and for the benefit of the inhabitant.
We have seen little as yet but what we have seen has been a great eye-opener for us all and a wonderful experience.  Yet I cannot feel that India is a place for our sort of people.  Give me England with its green fields and moderate climate and refreshing showers.  Give me a few years of peace with you darling and baby and I would be content and wish for nothing more.
And so, from the heat and dust and mystery and glamour of this beautiful country I send you and baby my love and devotion.  I think of you when the sun rises and when it goes down and I dream of you at night.  It is on you darling that my thoughts and hopes are fixed and it is to you that I will return one day when this conflict has drawn to a close.
Give my love to all at home and at Goring and tell Mother I will be sending her something soon.  Also give my love to Veronica and tell her not to think that her George is spending his time with native women.  From what I have seen it is very unlikely and a lot of stories from abroad are either untrue or grossly exaggerated. 
Remember, dear not to worry if you do not hear from me from time to time as, although I write to you regularly the mail are often delayed.
And now my sweetheart cheerio for now and look after yourself and baby and I will write again soon.
With all my love to you both,
Your devoted and adoring husband.
John
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Re: Wartime Letters
Post on Mon 25 Jan 2016, 23:12 by Priscilla
I read the letters with great interest, Tim. My on first letters home 20 years on from these must have been much the same; little had changed and didn't for quite a while. You have not said where he was posted - but that makes little difference because the same could have been written from anywhere. The 'old town' bazaars are still fascinating  even if  in most big centers now there are airconditioned shopping malls with designer shops. Thank you for taking me back.  I wish my letters had been kept! I still have all my mother's to me - a huge box about those everyday things that kept me going  - and thoughout an underlying wistfulness of my being so far away. It was many years before flights became more frequent and reasonable enough for home leave. And your father holds back the homesickness as did I but surely in that  very different life impossible not to feel. After a lifetime there I now feel a kind of homesicknees for that too. In a TV prog last week I   heard a koel - (local migrant cuckoo.)There used to be one every winter on a tree  close by - and I was nearly shot through a window by a neighbour as wearied of its incessant rising call as I was.Ah, bittersweet nostalgia........
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Re: Wartime Letters
Post on Wed 27 Jan 2016, 21:48 by Tim of Aclea
Thank you for your reply Priscilla.  By father was based at Deolali in India but it was only for 10 days.  He travelled via Sierra Leone and Cape Town where he also spent 10 days.  Regrettably I do not have any letters from Cape Town.  From India his unit, the 56th Division went to Iraq and in 1943 to Tunisia where he was wounded.

Tim
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Re: Wartime Letters
Post on Wed 27 Jan 2016, 22:47 by Priscilla
And your father saw a chunk of the world in his postings. M father loved to tell of his travels - including Tunisia where he served always on front lines with  the same Dr until a lengthy stay in Austria. Then the young Jewish Doctor...... he stayed back and one can only guess what his mission became then and my father eventually got himself home late in 1945.. I had not seen him for 5 years.
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Re: Wartime Letters
Post on Fri 29 Jan 2016, 19:39 by PaulRyckier
Thank you very much Tim and Priscilla for your rememberings. As a matter of fact it is as much history as the "other" great history...your fathers seems to have had quite a more variated life than mine...

Kind regards from a Paul asking for more...
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Re: Wartime Letters
Post on Sat 30 Jan 2016, 06:49 by Tim of Aclea
The next letter was written at sea while sailing from India to Iraq

From 5343206 Pte J Whittle at sea A Coy 2/6 Queens: APO 2005
5th November 1942

My Darling Vera,
Once again I am writing to you and, no doubt, in the course of time either in 1943 or 44, you will receive it.
I regret that so far we have not been issued with the green 'field' envelopes but still have to submit to the indignity of censorship within our own unit.  But perhaps, later on we will get them.
While I will write to you what I can darling, always remember there is a lot we cannot mention.
I am pleased to say I am quite well and happy, or at least as happy as one can be in these circumstances,
I hope you and baby are quite well and I trust that baby is progressing alright and getting a big girl.  I think of you both darling and do wish I were back with you.  I miss you both terribly and I regret every moment I spend sway from you.  But like thousands more we are caught up in the turmoils of a colossal rocket in which a few are sharing the spoils.  It will soon be one year since baby was born.  I wonder where we will all be in a year hence.  I will make up for all this time apart when I come home love.  We will always be together then I will never want to be way from you then dear.
I think that in the future I would like to spend holiday time exploring different parts of Britain.  I will never want to make long journeys again.  I quite enjoyed our short stay in the camp in India and I will never forget the sights we saw. The one that will always remain most vividly is the peasant men and women toiling in the fields or in the stone quarries with great dignity and serenity.  The women carry themselves very well, probably due to the fact that they use their heads for carrying things and this gives their backs a natural poise.  Many of them have a ring in their nose and we used to see them breaking stones not far from us and they worked very hard for 6d a day.  Young children too work hard and except for the wealthiest classes, do not seem to go to school.  The natives who come into contact with the British knew a little English but outside the ordinary people could not understand us.
We bathed several times in the nearby river and then a host of fruit sellers would gather round to sell us their bananas which we consumed in large quantities.  On one occasion we went for a route march by a native village which was really a collection of old shacks and mud huts in which numerous families and animals seemed to live in mingled confusion.  For fuel the natives use dried carrel manure which is dried in the sun and which adds to the already strange aromas of their quarters.
At sight of us the children seemed rather afraid and as we approached the nearby watering place where the workers gathered with their water vessels, they moved away from us rather nervously.  Perhaps memories of the past were revived by the sight of us. 
I think the cow in India is a sacred animal and I don’t remember seeing one but there were plenty of goats so it is probably from them that they get their milk supply.  Oxen do the work of cart horses while pony traps (tongas) are used as sort of taxis, two ponies in a trap, and all beasts of burden are adorned with bells which jangle as they go along. 
It is strange at first buying things in the bazaar.  You fix your eyes on an article and inquire the price.  The assistant says, say 'five rupees' and you offer him one or a few annas and then you argue until you fix on a price.  When I bought a pair of sandals we argued over the price then we went through numerous pairs until we found a pair I liked.  After I had paid the assistant promptly asked me for a tip.  The country seems to be run on the tipping system.
I often looked at the sun setting behind the distant hills and the effect was entrancing.  The whole sky seemed to be one red glow for a few minutes and then darkness would come.  There was no twilight as we know it at home.
7 Nov
I had a chat with a couple of sailors love and according to what they told me Jack [Vera's older brother] is in the eastern fleet.  That will mean of course that he will be out here for quite a bit yet.  Do not tell Edith [Jack's wife who shares rooms in Reading with Vera] if you think it will upset her.  On the other hand the ship he is on is not so bad as you said and it has one aircraft which makes a great difference to any vessel.  It is better anyway that Jack should be out this way than in the Mediterranean.  I hope, of course that by the time you have received this letter Jack will have been home on leave.  I should hate for him to be away long and to grow dim in his children's memory.
I have seen that Jack's job in the galley must be about the worst job on board.  The heat is terrific and I can understand him losing his hair.  Also love, while I can appreciate your father liking the sea, I can also well understand him wanting to leave sea life and stay at home.  The trouble is that travelling unsettles one and while at sea you long for home, when you get home the longing for travel returns and I can well understand how naval people get after the life at sea.  So you must not be too harsh on your father, I do hope you all get on very well with him.  If you do not, you are not to remain at Prospect Street.  Our child must never be treated as Mavis and Anne were treated [Jack and Edith's children, no idea what the reference is to though].  That is something I could not forgive.  I also hope that Queenie [Vera's older sister also sharing rooms]  will not spoil her.  If she likes children all that much let her get married and have some of her own, to spoil other peoples children is a form of selfishness.
How I wish I had not had to leave you darling. but we must make the best of it. I know you will always be brave darling and in due course we will be together and then we will have the future to spend together.  After a while Dorothy [the baby] will get to know me again and we will be happy together just as if we had never been apart. 
We are on the water again now and in due course I will be able to tell you where we are going.  At present I can only say that we might be going to a more dangerous place. 
Now that I have a lot of time to think of the past many memories come back to me and in my mind I go over the treasured memories of the past.  Unlike many others we have had a little married life and what part I look back on with particular pleasure is the time we spent at Belmont Road. 
Perhaps it is because we were on our own and had no-one to bother us.  I would not wish to stay at Prospect Street when I get back if we can find somewhere else more suitable.  Meanwhile I am happy to think that you are not alone while I am away.  In due course my letters will be coming to you quite often.  I am simply longing for some news of you love.  Don't forget a photo now and again will you?  I expect you have got the snaps of Mr Garton and me [from South Africa which I have] by now.  What do you think of them?  That was a happy time.  How I wish we were there now.  It is a wonderful place.
I hope you see Mother often, I miss them all very much.  I will have to find something suitable to send her. 
We did not get food in India like we do at home.  No fresh vegetables and tender meat and no nice puddings.  There is a lot we take for granted at home which we do not realise until we are away. 
We did not dream what England meant to us until we were thousands of miles away.  But what a wonderful place it is compared to the scorched earth of other lands.  One misses too the birds and green fields and flowers of home. 
Over the fireside of the future darling we will be able to talk over these present times and perhaps re-visit such places as Long Milford.  Do you see anything of Ruth Jennings or Bill Miles' wife?  Her baby is due about now.  There is a lot of Reading chaps out here
[end of letter lost]
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Re: Wartime Letters
Post on Sun 31 Jan 2016, 21:00 by PaulRyckier
Thanks Tim for this one too.

Kind regards, Paul.
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Re: Wartime Letters
Post on Tue 16 Feb 2016, 16:41 by Tim of Aclea
This is the first letter from 'home that I possess which is from my grandmother to my father, she died before I was born.

From Mrs R.Whittle, The Bungalow, Goring Heath, Reading
To 5343206 Pte J.Whittle, A Coy 2/6 QRR, Persia and Iraq Force
21st December 1942
My Dearest John,
We were all so pleased to hear from you.  I do hope you are still safe and well.  We are always talking of you and my last thoughts at night are of you.  What a happy day when you return dear which I think won't be so long now.
Dorothy [my eldest sister] is just lovely.  She does Vera credit.  We all make such a lot of her.  Even Father misses her and ? did she played with his buttons.  She was very attracted to them.  I was hoping to see her on Sunday being the first she will be spoilt by us all.  It will be nice when the better weather comes.  I like Vera to come and bring her.  It cheers me up.
Well dear, Auntie Annie is living close to where you were born.  She moved to a lovely place.  She liked it here but she found it rather quiet.
I send Dorothy to get the eggs in when I have them.
Auntie Annie’s estate reached £3083 after death duties and cost of the sale taken out.  They took over £1000 for it all.  Isn’t it terrible - poor Auntie is very sad at times.  She liked Dorothy so much and she said how like you she is and so intelligent.
Father has sent you an airgraph.  We shall write to you every week.  Is there anything you want?  Mind to say and we will get it if possible.
Gerald is expecting [to hear] every day but I hope it won’t be until after Xmas.  I hope to see Wilf at Easter.  Lawrence and Gill are coming.  Lawrence won £17 one week at Coventry dogs and the week he came he drew £16.
We are expecting Leslie home soon, I hope for Xmas.  I hope dear we shall all be together next Xmas; so goodbye my dear son.  [all brothers, my father was one of 8 boys and 2 girls of which 6 served in the armed forces and 1 brother was killed during the war]
All my love from your ever loving mother and father and all.
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Re: Wartime Letters
Post on Sun 05 Feb 2017, 13:57 by ajs31290
Hi Tim,

Greetings from the U.S. I came across your posts while trying  to do some research pertaining to the life of my grandmother, your father's oldest sister, Veronica E. Whittle. Sadly, she passed in 2004 (I was 14 at the time) and presently have many questions I would have liked to ask her if she was still living. Finding your posts was like striking gold! Your father's writings helped answer some questions and painted a great picture of what it must have been like to live during that era.  

May I ask you some further questions about our family history? 

Looking forward to speaking with you!

Cheers,

Andrew J. Smith
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Re: Wartime Letters
Post on Sun 05 Feb 2017, 15:42 by Meles meles
Welcome ajs ... I realise that you are primarily here to make contact with Tim in pursuit of your genealogical research, but you might also like to hang around here and delve into some of our other historical discussions or indeed start you own.

And you never know ... some train of discussion may lead to another "pot of gold". I once posted a general question about 19th century sailing ships ... and after a year or so or discussion, a poster here unexpectedly provided links to an old photo of my ggg-grand-dad's exact ship in port, and then a few months later to a specially commissioned painting of his ship.

Thank you also for "bumping up" Tim's original posts. I missed these when he first posted and have now thoroughly enjoyed reading them. You are both very fortunate in having such detailed and personal records. Sadly all the wartime correspondence between my own parents seems to have long been lost.

Regards, MM
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Re: Wartime Letters
Post on Sun 26 Mar 2017, 19:18 by PaulRyckier
@ajs31290 wrote:
Hi Tim,

Greetings from the U.S. I came across your posts while trying  to do some research pertaining to the life of my grandmother, your father's oldest sister, Veronica E. Whittle. Sadly, she passed in 2004 (I was 14 at the time) and presently have many questions I would have liked to ask her if she was still living. Finding your posts was like striking gold! Your father's writings helped answer some questions and painted a great picture of what it must have been like to live during that era.  

May I ask you some further questions about our family history? 

Looking forward to speaking with you!

Cheers,

Andrew J. Smith


ajs31290,

Tim attending another board where I am contributing too from time to time, asked me to move this message to you on this board:

Paul alerted me to a message to me on Nordmann's website in February.  I have managed to look at the message but am unable to reply to it.  I have though written a reply and ask that one of you post it under Our members’ blogs – only a servant – wartime letters.



'Hi Andrew

Thank you for your message and apologies for the time that it was taken me to reply.  I am afraid I am no longer on this website and although I was able to read the message I did not have permission to reply to it, I did receive an automated reply a while ago from the site that as I had not posted for some time my account would be deleted.  I have therefore posted this on another site that I am still on and have asked a member of that site, who is still on Res Historica, to post this on for me. 

I am in email contact with one of her sons, my cousin Roland Smith, whom I met in 1972 when I stayed at your grandmother’s, who is I presume your uncle and you could contact him for my email address and then you could email me direct.  I will email Roland as well.

Best wishes

Tim Whittle'




Andrew Smith describes himself as the grandson of my aunt Veronica and, as I state in my email I am in contact with one of her sons

thanks

Tim



Kind regards, Paul.
 

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