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Jim remained at Carpiquet Aerodrome until early August and in a long letter written at the end of July he "just rambled on and on". In August when the regiment moved to Le Beny-Bocage his letters became more focussed on the progress of the war. This was the lead up to the Battle of the Falaise Gap or Falaise Pocket; a key military operation leading to the liberation of Paris after large numbers of men and equipment were encircled and lost to the German army.

German dug-outs at Carpiquet aerodrome

"German dug-outs at Carpiquet aerodrome near Caen."

"Scene of very fierce fighting before Falaise Aug '44."


B.L.A. France, 30 July 1944

In this letter, complete with diagrams, Jim explained to Pip how he had made himself comfortable and secure in a slit-trench, using muck-filled ammo boxes and including a table top to write on. He went on, in no uncertain terms, to express his dislike for most of the A.E.F. programmes. This was the Allied Expeditionary Forces radio service for the troops. They were far too American for his taste, although he did like the comedians Bob Hope and Fred Allen.

Diagram of slit-trench

Jim then described some unusual noises that he had just heard.

“There have been two mysterious whistles this last twenty minutes for all the world like a bomb coming down some distance away or something largish passing overhead with high velocity. The first one caught me unawares in the lorry and I died for a moment thinking I’d been caught short by Tedesci. Quite unexplainable. Jerry used to have a sound signal rather similar which when fired from a Verey Pistol (sic) emitted a horrible dying wail and scared everyone for miles around when first used. I’ve not seen any here and besides we’re not near enough to him for any he did use to be heard anyway – most mysterious.”

It is not clear what this was. After three years of war Jim would have known the source of most sounds.

Perhaps it was the Nebelwerfer six-barrelled rocket launchers that he had heard. They were nicknamed "moaning minnies", and the sound as they launched their shells would have fitted his description. However, later on in the letter he referred to "sobbing sisters", a term that was also used to describe the Nebelwerfers.






July letter page 2

Jim listed his week’s Naafi ration purchased for four shillings (“excluding beer”):

“60 Capstan, 25 Woodbines, 1 Blade Razor, 1 box matches, 1 Pkt Beech Nut or allied stuff and 1½ Mars Bars + 1 bottle of beer which I sell to Mac.”

He mused over the size of shell-holes compared to those pictured in the First World War, wondering why they were smaller despite the increased fire power of modern weapons.

“This field here is pitted with the craters of Sobbing Sister bombs – only about a yard wide by a foot deep – like a saucer – they burst on the surface and have a big blast and shrapnel area – there is a dud lying about 30 yards away – a canister about 18 inches long by 6 wide – nasty jobs. Come to think of it I must have seen thousands of shell-holes in this war some made by really big stuff and yet no crater would hide an Alsatian dog most wouldn’t hide a cat and yet in the last war one saw pictures of huge craters housing half a dozen men – shell-holes supposedly – how come?"





B.L.A. France, 4 August 1944

“I don’t think this is going to be a very long letter because a) It’s late, b) I’ve been driving nearly all day and consequently Je suis fatigue, c) I’ve got to wash yet and find a bed space somewhere. I’ve slept in a ditch this last two nights – very comfortable too – you’d be surprised – except for two things – mosquitoes and brambles.”

He went on to describe the variety of insects and spiders he had encountered, including clouds of flies that swarmed over the many dead cattle scattered around the countryside. Then grumbled that he had to break off from finishing his letter.

“Damn again – just wasted 20 minutes finding a petrol filler cap for a tank which had lost his – it is now late so I must close down...”

B.L.A. France, 5 August 1944

“At present I’m sitting with my back to the remains of a very decrepit gate-post which leads into a tiny hay-field. The area we are in at present is what the wireless would tell you is ‘closed country – bad tank country’ whilst not exactly hilly there is scarcely a flat patch of any size anywhere around and visibility at any place is restricted to a matter of a few yards with huge luxuriant trees, bushes or little hills.”

“Narrow sunken lanes run everywhere like the veins of a leaf, many being completely overhung by the trees and bushes to form green tunnels, tiny fields are walled in with thick hedgerows containing trees often up to two feet in diameter and giant bushes together shading the fields so much that one wonders how anything could grow there.”

“The buildings dotted haphazardly so it seems, in all sorts of odd corners, have an air of ancient solidity and modern decay – mostly big and solid with thatched or tiled roofs they are a prey for all sorts of coloured lichens, whilst the doors are a consistent grey, pitted and scarred into all sorts of intricate designs. They are ancient doors about four inches thick swung on huge iron hinges and held together with hardwood pegs instead of screws or nails.”

“As far as I can see from the paper you sent me I now pay super-annuation on War Bonuses which I do not and never have received. It’s that sort of thing which makes the Tommy what he is. All the blah that is talked in Blighty means nothing to him as investigators found out much to their apparently genuine surprise and horror. Their report shows that the average Tommy (a) Does not believe a single promise yet made to him about Post-War Reconstruction, (b) Is dangerously cynical about Democracy, (c) Won’t be willing to do anything about it when he gets home – and I don’t blame him. The Powers That Be have made little effort to make the way easier for him in any direction and what they have done when compared with that of the Dominions and the U.S.A. almost makes me ashamed to be British… The bonus business is a case in point – niggledy, piggledy dealing of which the Authorities should be ashamed but they aren’t and neither the N.A.S. nor N.U.T. care a damn, a sufficiently big damn to register anything more than a feeble protest and then finit. They’ve had me.”

One can begin to understand why Churchill lost the 1945 General Election. The NAS and NUT were two Unions who Jim clearly thought should have been fighting more effectively for the rights of their teacher members.

Resting near Caen

"Resting after being withdrawn from R. Odon bridgehead near Caen."
"Heavily bombed that night from low level."

B.L.A. France, 12 August 1944

“Our present abode reached a few hours ago is a wheat cum oats field bearing many signs of recent unpleasantnesses – a village near here is the flattest village I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen some in my four years… there is the remains of a private car in the remains of a bedroom about 10 ft. off the ground at one place, roads do not exist so bulldozers are making new ones by the simple process of pushing straight on through kitchens, gardens, parlours, etc. or rather where they once were.”

“Near another village also badly bashed about we passed four men marking out the ground and digging foundations for a new set of houses! Probably their idea is to get mobile and use stone etc. from the ex-village before someone starts trying to make them pay for it, or before we use it all for road-making.”

Jim still had a radio in the lorry and very often a bunch of troopers would gather to listen to the BBC news. He occasionally told Pip that she almost certainly had a better grasp of the progress of the war than he did in spite of him being a part of it. He had another approach however:

“Personally I have about four maps on the go at once. Have just acquired a beauty about a yard square of France and must mark it all up. Mac scrounged it from the I.O. (Intell Officer) – the I.O. is usually the last man to get to know anything – therefore his maps are virgin.”

14 August: “The war is like this – I had to break off the letter sharply and now is the first time I’ve had a chance to resume. We are now many miles from the place where I wrote the first part and are in a plain common or garden field bearing ominous signs marked ‘Achtung – minen’. However there are no minen that I can see – we range all over the place and so far no-one has blown up – the usual Jerry trick of a dud minefield and notices to tell you there is supposed to be one. – his real ones he doesn’t advertise.”

Bailey bridge across River Orne

"Battalion crossing bailey bridge across R. Orne near Caen just before the Falaise collapse."

B.L.A. France, 18 August 1944

“This will be a shortish affair in all probability – not much time for writing these days as we spend much time on the move: not necessarily going very far but nevertheless taking up lots of time. The roads are often blocked with traffic – good job we’ve got supremacy in the air! Things are going well these days as you know doubtless, and Jerry’s 7th Army is very sick indeed…”

“We have just pulled into a meadow – a large meadow with no buildings near – there are a lot of dead bods just up the road I believe. Yesterday we were near a village which had more or less escaped damage but there wasn’t a living soul, nor a beast anywhere. Jerry now drives out all the inhabitants because he fears they will give away information. All the houses are thoroughly looted.”

“We now have a black kitten taken from the farm with the clocks" (grandfather clocks ‘in each room’) " – he eats porridge and bully but isn’t keen on sardines. We call him Homelite (name of the Auxiliary Generator in Shermans) because he purrs all the time… He was starving when we got him but now he sleeps all day.”

B.L.A. France, 23 August 1944

“I fear you are receiving mail rather irregularly these days but it cannot be helped. The Army as you know has periods of quiescence and feverish activity – we are in the middle of one of the latter periods at present. Fortunately it is in the right direction so maleesh. The weather doesn’t quite know how to behave these last three days and last night we had some of the heaviest rain I’ve seen for a long time. Today the field and hedges are strewn with blankets and equipment of all varieties, drying in the sun as it is one of our rare days of rest. Yesterday I spent most of the day running backwards and forwards from one field to another in about eighteen inches of mud thus needing the old four-wheel drive with all its consequent trouble. C’est la guerre. I would write a longer letter than this but a stream at the bottom of the field presents an opportunity for a decent bath which cannot be ignored – there is probably something dead in it somewhere but that can be ignored as long as I can’t see it.”

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