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Between January and March 1944 Jim travelled back to the UK by some means and must have been given leave very soon afterwards because his next letter reported his safe arrival in Worthing after seeing Pip and meeting his son Dave for the very first time. Also, on 20 March, he wrote about “those four glorious weeks”, so he was on leave for much of February and well into March. Dave would by now have been over 2 years 7 months old. Jim was billeted in an ex-hotel on the sea front along with the squadron that he had last seen in Italy, in December, before he was taken ill. There was mail awaiting him that had followed him back from Italy.

Worthing, 16 March 1944

“Fred is here all merry and bright and Bill Thompson presented me with a whole load of mail he had brought back. There is a parcel of fags (200), 20 Anf dictionaries, a parcel of socks and books and shaving cream, etc. from 20 Anf, a parcel from Lil, Mrs Hassel’s socks and a bundle of letters including one from Dave.”

Much of the contents of the letters Jim sent to Pip before D-Day consisted of arrangements for Pip to visit Worthing, which she did twice, leaving their son Dave with his grandparents at 20 Anfield Road. Jim was able to arrange a sleeping-out pass but warned Pip that he would be very busy during the days. He wrote about any diversions from his normal working days - some welcome, others decidedly not so welcome.

Worthing, 21 March 1944

“Woman Dear,

How would you like to spend a week here in Worthing? I can easily find some digs for you and would have no difficulty re a sleeping-out pass. You would have to run about most of the day by yourself of course as I would have to report here by 8 a.m. in the mornings and be here till the evenings (more or less)… If you decide to come it will have to be before April 1st as this area becomes a banned zone from that date and you would not be allowed in.”

Worthing, 8 April 1944

“I’ve had my Brains tested at this ‘ere test – I’m definitely a mechanical genius as I finished the mechanical test in about 5 minutes instead of the allowed 15 and was amazed (quite honestly) to find that most blokes thought it quite difficult (including Fred) and couldn’t finish in the time."

"I’d forgotten a lot of the maths. What for instance is 8, 1-2, 2-1 ??? and what is 1 + ½ + ¼ + ⅛ to infinity? The first four were easy 2 + 2, 6 – 4, 4 × 2, 6 ÷ 3. I was good at those.”

“There was a matrix test (completion of patterns) which not only made one cross-eyed in time but which got so difficult that I couldn’t make head or tail of it (nor, apparently, could anyone else).”

Worthing, 11 April 1944

“Tomorrow morning at 0730 hrs I’m going to ___ to collect ___ ___from ___ and coming back by road. I’ll not be so far from you comparatively but too far to do anything about it. Probably get back Thursday or Friday and on Saturday there is a DO. I don’t mean a festive DO but a spit etc. DO with WHITE BLANCO. Someone should be murdered – someone possibly will be one day. It’s all so ridiculous – we of course are the mannequins to pander to some ass’s self-importance. Brasses will be polished, new medal ribbons sewn on to the pocket (no bars allowed) etc etc. Where medal ribbon is coming from – or blanco – or flashes etc is not stated and no one here is worried – the consensus of opinion being ‘ Let the ASS provide it’. Maleesh the Army.”

Worthing, 13 April 1944

“You may notice that I’m back from that trip much sooner than I expected. In fact it turned out to be a mere day affair but very enjoyable. I drove a 15 cwt back and quite enjoyed myself – the first time I’ve really driven since taking the old six-tonner from Amrya to Suez. It was queer driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. The country was lovely and the day warm and sunny. We stopped at a wayside café for tea and sandwiches supplied by the Officer I/C – a very good chap. I’ve told you about him I think. Tomorrow I must begin to commence to start to prepare for our Brig’s Inspection – someone wants shootin’.”

Worthing, 15 April 1944

“I’m all poshed up after the Brig’s inspection but I’ve already scrubbed off all the white blanco. In fact the Major came in and saw my belt afterwards (I wasn’t there) and said ‘Hello someone scrubbed their belt already and by whose orders?’ However, he is quite used to Stores by now and willing to let sleeping dogs lie.”

“The Brig gave us a little lecture after the inspection – honestly Pip – I sometimes wonder if such people are as far away from the feelings of their rank and file as they appear from their talk. He told us how lucky we were to have had this little glimpse of Home."

I’m not sure how close to verbatim the following is but Jim clearly didn’t think much of the Brigadier's lecture, however it was expressed.

" ‘Many of us when overseas used to think longingly of civilian life and think that the civilian was having an easier time than us. This little visit serves to correct that impression – we now know that the civilian if anything has had a harder time than us, a miserable existence. We have seen the world, had a fine time and killed lots of Germans. They (civilians) have had to take it, be hit without hitting – just sitting down and getting bombed and bombed. We are going to have lots of fun yet, there are lots of Germans left to kill. They, poor people, won’t be in it – they’ll miss all the fun. I want you to train hard in the daytime and play hard at night.' (This after confining the battalion to billets after 8 pm for fighting with the Canadians every night – there is a story there).”

“ ‘This little visit Home has served to remind us of the delights of civvy street which perhaps in our long sojourn in the desert had faded a little from our minds. Now it had returned and we yearned for it but there was a job to do first. We had done the first half but now the game of the season was to start and then when the game was won and the final whistle blew we could return to civvy street never to leave again.’”

“I didn’t like it – I much prefer the man who says what he knows we think – we have had them. The man who says ‘ Nobody pretends to like this life but the job has to be done so let’s have a smack at it, smack as hard as we can and then we can get out of it all the quicker’. It’s a much healthier way of talking.”

“The story of the confining to billets after 8 pm is rather funny. Owing to the fights between our blokes and the Canucks we were confined (last night and in perpetuo) to billets after 8 pm except those men in possession of a Late Pass (till 11.30 pm). Any man wanting such a Pass must see the Sgt. Major. Such men did see him, every man in the squadron and he dished out blank passes by the hundred – the Major spent about an hour signing them – then the Office Clerk added the word ‘daily’ to them all with the result that every man still goes out when he likes and is moreover armed with authority to do so!”

After the inspection they marched back and the Major said “You may now fall out for 10 minutes smoke and then we’ll have some drill for half an hour or so while the Brig inspects the billets.” However, Jim and Fred “faded up the street” and Jim “drank four teas, ate one hamburger and a cake and read the paper.”

On 17 April Jim reported that “… we are going all hush hush...”, when he invited Pip for her second visit to Worthing, and he was unsure that his expected leave would ever materialise. Rather than heading his letters with “Worthing” and the date, he now reverted to a full army address and the envelopes were once again stamped by the censor. Pip did visit towards the end of April.

A.P.O. England, 1 May 1944

“I suppose you will be back Home by now. I do hope you had a pleasant and straightforward journey.”

“Our old radio has just finished churning out the News – nothing very startling and I don’t suppose there will be anything startling until the big startle starts. We have decorated the set with the Africa Star as it certainly merits it having churned out its contribution from Alex to Berta, from Rafah to Suez and Siracuse to the Moro River.”

A.P.O. England, 4 May 1944

"Last night Fred and I went to the Rivoli – quite a good programme for 1/-. George Formby in something to do with the Navy – spies, secret wireless stations and all the usual. Also ‘Yank Ahoy’ another comic effort also quite good though I fear their ideas of a troopship are rather far-fetched. I may be a little hazy but I don’t remember beautiful nurses wandering round our decks dispensing sympathy and pills and stroking brows of seasick squaddies comfortably ensconced in luxurious deck chairs (plus footrests and bookrests) and covered with fluffy blankets to the chin…”

“I’ve just had supper in the Naafi – liver chips and coffee. Sounds nice I suppose but the quantities were infinitesimal and it cost 8d, the liver was cold too. I’m afraid the Naafi like the Army will always be the Naafi.”

“Well sweetheart tempus fugit and bed is close approaching – on the floor this time. It’s quite comfortable though a little draughty when the wind is dead on the wall and penetrates somewhere to emerge through the floorboards. We had some ‘specialists’ here a week or two ago who were horrified at the idea of sleeping on a nice warm wooden floor – they were young with over four years’ service in England and always had a bed. Poor fellows! They actually went out and got themselves digs for the night.”

Desert rat

Jim sent a brief letter on 29 May promising some chocolate and enclosing a cloth desert rat. Then on 31 May he wrote that “pressure of work has been ‘orrible”. After a few complaints about the late arrival of a pay rise (“Everything is the same Pay, Allowances, Bonuses, even Service Stripes and decorations – lob ‘em out because the troops need a fillip.”), the weather (“positively scorching”), the old lady across the road (“one can almost hear her crooning over her coins as she claws them from the counter”) he reported that he had just handed in his old battledress.

 

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Perhaps this was an indication that the Brigadier’s “fun” was imminent because he signed off more emotionally than usual.

“Cheerio sweetheart mine. Don’t hope too hard please. I love you always and always lots and lots and lots.”

There were other hints of what was to come. Jim wrote that “life is uneventful at the moment as the mad rush is over, more or less” and he explained why none of Pip’s letters to him have survived to the present day. He could only ever keep a few and destroyed the rest. He also recalled a near miss when he might have become a POW.

A.P.O. England, 3 June 1944

“I must sort out your letters one of these days they are getting in a chaotic state. A number must go to the flames as my little box is overcrowded and I must keep within the limits of the box.”

“Today is an anniversary that you, for once, cannot draw to my attention. Two years ago ‘one-fifty box’ was overrun by Jerry and the old 44th ceased to exist. Hectic days – Fred and I and the Fitters were in one-five-one box, beautifully surrounded and next on the list. We stocked trenches with ammo, water, bully and biscuits, bren guns, rifles and hand grenades (about which we knew nothing) and prepared to surrender at the first opportunity. I said au revoir to you silently that day and wasn’t being pessimistic but here I am. It shakes yer it does.”

This would have been the Battle of Gazala. Was he preparing Pip for what might happen very soon? He closed with “Cheerio darling, chin up and smile and don’t worry. I take some catching nowadays, you’d be surprised. I’m the luckiest man alive today – or tomorrow.”

Then on 8 June he wrote, still from A.P.O. England “I was only one day out in my forecast of the Invasion n’est-ce pas? and that was because of the delay.”

The three photographs below, taken en route for Normandy on D3, as Jim described the day, show the tightly packed flat-bottomed landing craft that were used to cross the Channel. Even Jim, who was never seasick, described the crossing as "a bit rough and not a little uncomfortable".

D3 Southampton

Jim's caption on the back reads:

"Outward bound from unknown beach near Southampton for unknown beach elsewhere D3"

B Sqdn. 44th Tanks, A.P.O. England, 12 June 1944

“Sorry for the slight hiatus in the mail but the reason follows. Je suis en France and so far at any rate all in the garden is comparatively flourishing. I expect this news to be no surprise to you as you were usually an expert at putting two and two together. Don’t worry yourself. I’ve been in places a damn sight worse than this. For the present the above address still stands.”

D3 mid Channel

"Mid-Channel D3" . Note the ships filling the horizon and the barrage balloons.

Jim had already received a letter in France, from his brother Dave, who said he was “near the place we left in Italy”. He went on to describe what he saw around him, minimising any mention of the war.

“A large brown and white cow is grazing placidly a few yards away. The wench has just milked her using the old three-legged stool and bucket method. The wench looks as strong as an ox (probably is) and walks like a sergeant in the Commandos… She smokes any cigarettes she gets in great gusts rather resembling a mobile donkey-engine at a distance… Our crossing was a bit rough and not a little uncomfortable but otherwise quite uneventful… This part of the country is quite nice – rolling hills and a fair amount of trees in places… a pleasant place in peacetime I should say. The field behind us is a mass of red clover – the biggest I’ve ever seen… Don’t worry – things are pretty good and as I say I’ve been in a lot worse places – much worse… Haven’t seen any Luftwaffe yet – maybe he hasn’t any – there’s no room for them anyway.”

D3 Beach

"En route for Normandy - the approach to the beaches D3. Ahead is 'N' beach. Jerry is 5 miles inland"

 

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