My Dearest Son,
Are you all well and safe? That is all I need to know -
I have heard nothing from you or about you since the day you left. All endeavors to find out what has happened have been useless. You know my state of mind so I will say nothing about it.
London June 16 - '44
I am not receiving you at all
I am NOT receiving you -
Are you receiving me?
Are you receiving me?
Over to you. Over -
London, June 1944
Well, darling, whatever one can say about life in war- time, one cannot say it is dull!
No sooner had we got over the shock of the opening of the Invasion, then we got a worse shock last week. A new type of death from the air falling upon our innocent heads! You don't know what it has been like in London for the past week, the newspaper reports are not accurate - intentionally so, I expect.
One night we heard the woebegone sound of the siren, which had been silent for several months. Then there was a silence and suddenly the sound of a plane skimming over our house, so low that I thought it was going to crash into our roof. Tam came running down and saying: "Well, the cheek of that pilot! Did you ever see anything like that, flying so low on a night as dark as this! He must be crazy or in difficulties." I said: "It was queer it didn't sound like a plane engine, but more like a motor-cycle or motor-boat". This went on and on, all night. The next day the secret was out, we kept trying to see one, being filled with curiosity, as you can imagine! Every time we heard one we darted out, but it goes so fast and is so low that we can't see them before a housetop cuts off the view. Then complete chaos! They tried gunfire - useless, then they tried fighters, and this, that and the other!
Sunday morning, at six, I heard one, and I leapt up and stuck my head out of the window JUST at the exact moment when it exploded!!! (Very intelligent of me, wasn't it, darling!) Anyway, it hit a house in the Bayswater Road just at the bottom of our street, the blast blew me to the back of the room! It was very funny, because I skidded along the parquet floor in my nightie, ending up against the bed, still half asleep! Later, we went out to view the damage. The plane was all to bits and seemed very flimsy. It hit 2 trees at the edge of the park, and then struck the house which was demolished, nearly destroying Tyburn Convent which was next door. The strangest feature is the enormous amount of blast. Usually a bomb buries itself, falling from a great height. These fall from about 500 to 1500 feet, bursting in the open, and for streets around the windows are all out. The broken glass is as much as we used to see on a night of 500 bombers in the old days, (that accounts for me being blown out of my window!).
They tried leaving the Alert on all the time, but the engine does not make much noise and if there is traffic, you cannot hear it. It sort of sneaks up on you, all on it's own! Sunday, we heard from Peggy Graves that the Guards Chapel at Wellington Barracks had a direct hit during a service to commemorate the anniversary of the victory of Waterloo. The church was reduced to ruble and everyone in it killed. The husband of a great friend of hers, one of the men that Tam plays bridge with every week, was buried alive. The service had been attended by an enormous number of military Big-wigs, all gathered together in one spot, so it was a lucky hit for those Germans. (Sweet Creatures). - On the other hand, the Big-wigs were rather stupid being together, - it may be a lucky hit for "Our side"!
So it goes on, life has become completely disorganized. Last night, when I was cooking dinner, we heard it coming with it's harsh, steady drone. We rushed out, and saw one of the damn things for the first time! We got a perfect view, it came right over and down our street, going off to the N.W. of London. I expected you've seen hundreds, but if not, well, it looks just like a small fighter plane with a bright light in it's tail. It carries a bomb which is the size of the plane casing, about 1000lb bomb I should say from the length, and it's speed is astonishing. The papers all said it went between 200 and 300 miles an hour. Gerry, this is definitely NOT so. I am pretty good at judging speeds, and I am certain it was traveling at well over 400 miles an hour. We watched a Spitfire chasing it, and it could not catch up at all!
Watching it in the calm, brilliant evening light, one had the most uncanny feeling. It was quite eerie, exuding a sensation of evil, there was nothing human guiding it in it's steady, purposeful flight. We have had an average of about ten every 24 hours falling in this particular area. The old raids meant that the day was free to do things. At night, you might have to spend several hours in the kitchen, but when the raid was over, it was over. Also you knew by the concentration of fire, etc, what part of London was catching it and if it wasn't your area you didn't bother much. Also, you can hear a bomb falling from a long way off, and can tell about where it will fall. You had a good minute or two to go into shelter.
This new evil makes all day and all night unpredictable. There is no time in the 24 hours when they don't suddenly appear. You listen to the motor, "Blub-blob-sputter" - then silence. There is only 5 seconds before the explosion, which, may be on your roof - if you are upstairs, you do NOT have time to go down. You have to watch out for broken glass, too, for although it falls 4 blocks off, all your windows may be blown out. You see people in the streets badly cut up - hands, face, etc.
Today I received your tiny note which had been posted on June 9th. Ten days on the way. It was the first sign of your existence since you left. I will send you a letter-card, every few days from now on, in case you might be a wee bit worried about all this. If you do not hear from me for as long as a week, you can conclude that something is wrong, hop a lorry and come to Southwick Street and start digging!!!
As your letter was not signed "with love," I hesitate to sign myself that way, (or it might not be welcome?) However, a letter is so chilly without even one word of love in it, so I do sign myself,
Your very loving
- S. While writing this we have had three Alerts, which gives you an idea of the frequency.
Dear Gerry -
Wrote you a long letter a few days ago telling you all about the "BUZZ-bombs" which are disrupting our daily, and particularly our nightly lives. This is still topic No. 1 of the week, so I'll describe how we spent last night. It was really too ridiculous! Four of the damn things hurtled over our street before midnight. We put Harry in my bed, Tam slept in your bed in the kitch, and I on a mattress under the kitchen table in some blankets, like a sleeping-bag.
I would doze uneasily, then wake to hear one go "splutter - konk - konk" then "BANG"! as it fell somewhere nearby. I had to think about not getting up suddenly as the table was only a foot above my head, - had an uneasy feeling that there was something else which I didn't like, but could not quite put my finger on it. After a while I slept, then woke up, having heard a slight sound in the darkness. Half asleep, I realized I was lying on the kitchen floor in the dark - and - and what was that -? A MOUSE! - With a wild shriek I jumped up, and of course, hit my head with such terrible force that it almost knocked me out! Today there is a bump to end all bumps on my head. Did you ever hear of such an idiotic life as one leads these days.
It is quite maddening, because with an ordinary air raid, one gets up when the alert goes, sits around for a few hours - then its over, and one goes to bed, feeling peaceful and relieved that one has survived one more raid. But with these damned flying bombs the suspense is almost unbearable. They leave the alert on all the time, the only warning is that nasty, inhuman droning sound, then it stops, and one dives under the kitchen table, for it's impact is a matter of seconds after the buzzing stops.
Tam and Harry are asleep and I have been sitting up most of the night, counting 17 flying bombs in this locality. It isawful, as soon as I hear one coming, I clasp my hands tight, hold my breath: "Oh, it must go somewhere else, not here!" The instinct of survival is strong, one pushes it away with ones whole body and the force of one's will.
It is not as bad as the Germans make out! Monday was beautiful and Tam and I took a walk after dinner. Bombs had been flying about all day, toward evening there was a lull. U.S. troops, wearing their Summer "Pixie hats", were playing a hilarious game of baseball in the park. Nearby children played cricket in the golden sunlight, kissing couples lay in the grass, and Londoners went home from work. As we left this calm and peaceful scene, we opened our evening newspaper and read this quotation from the Berlin newspapers: "London in flames! Mass evacuations! Terror widespread over our new Secret Weapon." We laughed a lot over this! The truth is the Germans don't know what is happening, because the newspapers only put in accounts of casualties in "Southern England", London is never mentioned. (They don't know where their bombs are falling.)
It is an example of how exaggerated and inaccurate the German newspaper accounts are - whereas the English ones are usually quite correct. For instance, in the first few days of casualties, the papers reported that a Church had been hit, a Convent, and 2 hospitals. Reading this, one would think: "Same old propaganda - blaming the Germans for the ruins of churches, hospitals etc." The convent was Tyburn, at the end of our street - the 2 hospitals both had people in them we knew, - the Church was the Guard's Chapel, which I told you about. A friend of Tam was killed. Everyone was buried under 8 foot of rubble, after a direct hit - and all they had found was one hand with 4 fingers on it!
As a way of affecting the course of the war, this new way of shelling civilians is of no use at all. The armies in France will decide that - one way or the other - while these flying bombs will only kill a lot of harmless wives like me. The British will soon adjust themselves with their usual placid calm, and carry on as always. At present they are startled and bothered, and their nerves are jumpy after so many sleepless nights. We'll soon adjust ourselves to the new situation.
Well, now, to tell you something of the Saga of Bubi and Retter, which I know you must be curious about. When Retter left that Saturday, it was quite different from his usual leaving - he simply disappeared! All she could find out about Retter's fate was this: - Brock rang up next day quite cheerful, saying he expected to see Retter on Monday. Bubi was mystified, and said that as she had heard nothing, she had concluded things must have gone wrong again - at which, Brock became alarmed and said: "Well, perhaps they did. I'll find out and let you know." He then went to the country for several days, and she heard nothing more. Poor, poor little Bubi was quite frantic. Then Brock rang up again, said he did not know much yet, but if she would come round, he'd tell her what he knew. So she went to his flat, the first time she'd met Brock! Thought he was rather a Type! He then told her all that had happened until he left the flat of that man, at about mid-day. He went away to the country, so was unaware of subsequent events. Poor Bubi was appalled at what he told her. Brock said he had been ringing up the man, but that his wife said he had gone away, and that she could not discussed the matter in his absence. He has remained away ever since, so neither Brock nor I have any information as to what was the result of the mornings misadventure, either to the man, or to Retter.
Anyway, as soon as the Second Front opened, Bubi realized that if Retter was all right he would not have time to engage in any more mad adventures. She was relieved that it was all done with, and hoped with all her heart that Retter had got out of it with his usual good luck, and nothing worse than a really bad scare - which it must have been!
So now you know all I know about Bubi and Retter. Absolutely crazy, aren't they? Which, I suppose, makes them both attractive!
Tonight the 'phone rang, and I heard the familiar "long distance call -". Realizing the call came from a camp, as I heard faint voices saying "Yes Captain -" "Thank you Lieutenant -", I was delighted that at last I was going to have a chat with you, after 3 weeks of total silence. I heard a faint voice saying: "Hello, darling are you all right? I've been trying to get a line through to you all day, but there are millions of calls to London. I've been so worried." Unfortunately, the voice was a totally strange English one. "I'm so sorry, but I am not the right 'darling'!" It was a wrong number, we both said we were sorry, and that was that.
I've already told you about all the excitement, so no more today. Don't work too hard, you do things to such extremes, and don't allow yourself enough rest. You will be warn out, the way you were last time. I hope you aren't taking any more flying lessons - your eyesight is a handicap in flying. And don't forget that admonition on a sign in a Liverpool Temperance Hostel: "Behind every social evil stands revealed the hidden hand of alcohol."
Let us know when you think you will get a pass! Harry's brother is going to get one soon, so maybe there is a chance of some leave for you, the Air Force seems privileged.
Love from Sara.