Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Post #1 - October 23-26, 1943 - London Pass and Tchaikovsky at Royal Albert Hall

Among my most treasured physical possessions are three large plastic cartons containing thousands of pages of letters, written between the years of 1940 and 1945, between members of my family, especially between my mother and father. My father was eventually stationed with the 108th Air Force in England somewhere near London sometime in August 1943. His role was merely clerical, probably because his father had died of diabetes at a very young age, and he and his two brothers were the sole support of their mother. My father was the eldest (28 in 1943) and I think some consideration was given to him to place him in a less dangerous situation than those who were sent into combat. He was always appreciative of that fact and although the forced separation of this newly-married couple weighed heavily on them, they steeled themselves for what they suspected would become a long-term, world-changing event that they hoped and dreamed would lead to a better life.

They both wrote about their experiences in vivid detail, both being excellent writers, and I have spent many hours trying to read and scan all these letters. Now, during the Covid 19 quarantine, I have found more hours to pore over their letters than I have in the past, but have barely begun to make a dent.

I began this new blog in the hope that there might be those out there who would be interested in reading the day-to-day details and tribulations of life during WWII for two reasons. One is that, in reading through these letters, I have developed an appreciation for the sacrifices made by the previous generation in this, our period of social distancing. The second is that scanning all this material is a colossal job, and if I knew that there were lots of people out there who were interested in reading them, a few at a time on a daily basis, I would be more inclined to keep at it.

So to pique your interest, I have decided to present one of my father's letters to introduce him to you so that you can understand the quality of his writing. Many of the letters are much shorter and full of mundane details, but there are also many like this one.

To enlarge the pages of the letter so that they are legible, click on the first page. This will allow you to enlarge for reading and will provide access to the other pages along the bottom of the screen.

23 Oct. 1943
Hotel Imperial

Eve, dearest,

London again. Arrived last night about seven o’clock, and this is the first chance I have had to write. Directly on arriving, I headed, as is becoming my custom, for the Turkish Baths, and enjoyed them just as much as the other times. I indulged this morning to the extent of sleeping ’til ten, at which time I arose, dressed, and took the Underground to Leicester Sq., which is my “hangout”; mainly because the Eagle Club (where one gets all he can eat for sixpence) and most of the Theaters are nearby. Finishing a breakfast of griddle cakes, coffee and pie, I relaxed in the Lounge of the Club in a big green-leather chair while I read your latest letters (Oct.2-3 & 4th) over a few times. Mom’s letter arrived, in the same mail, and while I had a little difficulty reading her writing, I managed to decipher it. Please give her my love and tell her I’ll write soon again. Tell her I have already written twice to Jack. I have a pretty good idea why we haven’t heard from him. Tell her, too, that when she answers my next, she’s to use lined paper and to write as plainly as possible. The letter of the 4th contained the two snaps of the “punkin” and I think she looks just  scrumptious. However, I don’t think you should bother to make a colored enlargement of the rocking chair picture—it isn’t quite sharp enough. Besides, I like her better in the other one (in Gloria’s arms). By the way, when do I get a few good snaps of you, Honey? Before I leave the subject—I know 10 or 20 dollars is a lot of money to spend on pictures, but $50 is much more—and I’m surprised you missed the point. I’m surprised, too, that you could even think that I would offer money I didn’t have. I had intended to send the $50 along anyway (pictures or no) but since you are skeptical, well, I’ve decided to hold out for the picture. Now do I get it, or don’t I? Remember—it must meet specifications: A miniature, or 4 x 6, 3 x 5, by Clair Pruett—no substitutes accepted. It just occurred to me—if you show some of my letters to the photographer, so that she can see how much this means to me—she might condescend to make a special effort. To get on—after I had my fill of looking at the pictures and reading your letters, I went upstairs to the barber-shop, where I got clipped, shaved and shampooed. I had seen a bill-board announcing the final concert of the London Philharmonic for the very  afternoon, and I had determined to hear it. So, having gotten cleaned up, etc. and feeling like a new man, I took off for the Hans Crescent Club to reserve a seat. When I got there, I found they had returned all their tickets to the box-office. Unwilling to waste a minute—fearful that I might not be in time to get a seat, I hopped into a cab and went to Albert Hall. To my great relief, they were still selling tickets, and after fifteen or twenty minutes in queue (line to you), I got my ticket—and a damned good seat too—just where I wanted it. It was now 12:30 and the concert was scheduled to start at 2:30. The rain and fog of the morning had already given way to bright sunshine, and I wandered out into it. Directly across the the Hall is the Monument to King Albert. It is an imposing edifice some six or seven stories high, of stone and gold leaf and colored pigments. I am not usually impressed by monuments, they leave me cold. But this one is truly awe-inspiring and eye-filling. In letters of gilt, beneath the cornucopia, extending all ’round the four sides is inscribed: “Victoria and her people—to Albert, who devoted his life to the good of humanity.” To tell the truth, I couldn’t begin to do it justice with mere words—one would have to see it to appreciate it. In short, the Memorial to Albert is really “sump’n.” Definitely a fitting entrance to the large park that rolls away from three sides of it, the fourth fronting on the Avenue. Anyway, I stood in front of Albert Hall and contemplated. I had two hours to kill before concert time and was wondering how to use them to the best advantage. The park across the way was fresh after the rain and filled with warm sunlight, so I decided to take a walk. It was very peaceful, and the colorful autumn foliage was a joy to the eye, and I missed you very much just then, my darling. I wanted so very much for you to share with me the beauty and contentment to be found in the park, that I sat down on one of the benches, fished a pencil from my pocket, one of your letters from another pocket, and on the back of it, composed the enclosed “epic.” It’s no literary gem, but it serves the purpose I had in mind as I wrote it: To give you, my Sweet, an insight to what I was thinking and feeling at the time. I hope you like it, Baby. (I typed it—for easier reading.) When I finished it was 1:45, and since the doors were to open at 2, I strolled back to the Hall. Well, Chippie, that was a concert I shall never forget. The Hall was packed, as usual, and full fifty per cent of the audience were in uniform, of every rank, of every country, of both sexes. The program, you will notice, started with the “Phantasy” of Francesca Da Rimini, a work I had never heard heretofore, but beautiful in its exotic, barbaric colorfulness. Fistoulari is the most graceful, dynamic, dramatic conductor it has ever been my pleasure to behold, with the possible exception of Stokowski. Like the latter, he used no score, and yet, his control of the Orchestra was perfect; his interpretation gratifying to the most fastidious music-lover. Jean Pougnet, who was the soloist of the afternoon, is the concertmeister of the orchestra, and his Concerto was very stirringly and capably executed. His tone rich and full, suffering no loss of emphasis in the chords. His bowing in an extremely difficult composition—flawless. But perhaps his greatest attraction was in his personality itself. Tall, with the physique of a football player and the face of a movie idol, his only condescension to his art being his bushy light brown hair, which stood almost straight up from his broad forehead. Definitely a feminine heart-stopper. I watched a few of the gals nearby as they listened—absorbed, and, as one, their hearts were in their eyes. It looks could eat, there wouldn’t have been a crumb left of him. After the intermission—the “Pathetique” Symphony of Tchaikovsky. I’ve heard this many times, but never was I thrilled by it like I was this time. Fistoulari outdid himself in this one, literally squeezing out the last dregs of feeling in a symphony that runs from pathos to exhilaration—and back again. The Orchestra was superb, simply because it followed to the nth degree, every move of Fistoulari’s inspired baton, arms and hands and body; (he leads with everything he has) he almost dances the music. The “Pathetique” to my mind, is just about the most exciting symphony ever written, and it was so perfectly played that I was emotionally drunk when I floated out of the Hall after the concert.  In a semi-daze, I made my way to the Eagle Club to feed the body. I sat down at a corner table in the restaurant and waited for service. Before the waitress could get to me, two Canadian soldiers (Streamer and Junior) strolled over to ask if they could share the table. I was only too glad for their company, I’ve been so lonely. They turned out to be swell company and swell fellows. We talked of everything from soup to nuts. After dinner we decided to take in a movie. The only thing around Leicester Sq. that I hadn’t already seen was “So Proudly We Hail,” so we settled for that—and weren’t a bit sorry. It’s a very good show—if a bit over-dramatized. Paulette Goddard, as usual, is very good—and very cute. Veronica Lake is a revelation with both eyes exposed, and does a bang-up job of acting. Claudette Colbert is her customary capable self, but isn’t given much chance to show her charm. Hers is a straight role and just not worthy of her talents. Then, after the show, wandering around in the Blackout, hardly able to see the pavement, we decided to get drunk—if possible. Whiskey is very scarce in England, and you’re pretty good if you can find enough of the “hard stuff” to get high. Well, we would up in the lounge of the Russell Sq. Hotel, where we found a waiter who was willing to bring us liquor in single shots, as long as we continued to tip him sixpence with each round. To make a long story short, he (the waiter) had collected six tips, and we had had six drinks of very good whisky apiece, when Junior decided it was time for bed. I felt as if I had had six glasses of water, and was unwilling to see them go, but they had to be at their club by midnight and they had a long way to go. Regretfully, we said good-night, not before, however, arranging to meet the following morning at the Eagle Club. I saw no point in drinking all by myself, so I decided to find a room for the night. The Liberty Club, where I was supposed to stay, was a stranger to me, and I was in no mood to go looking for it in the Blackout, so I tried the desk at the Hotel. They were full-up, so I went next door to the Imperial Hotel. After the clerk had satisfied himself that I had no woman with me, and after I promised that there would be none that night, he kindly consented to let me have a room. The room itself was neat and clean, but the special feature was the bed. I took one glance at the foot-thick inner-spring mattress, and patted myself on the back for being one helluva wise guy. To add to the pleasant prospect, it was just as soft to the touch as it was pleasing to the eye. I removed my blouse and decided a trip to the water closet (toilet) was in order, so I went across the hall to the W.C. When I came back and tried the door, I found that I had locked myself out. Luckily, I had only removed my blouse—and nothing else, so I was able to go down to the desk and explain my predicament to the clerk. Evidently it was a commonplace occurrence to him, for, without a word he waved me to the lift, took me upstairs, and unlocked the door. I shudder to think what might have happened if I had disrobed a little more fully. I’d probably have had to spend the night in the W.C. dreaming, no doubt, of that soft, luxurious bed just across the hall. Br-r-r-r! Once again in the room—I was surprised to realize that I wasn’t a bit sleepy, although it was now well past midnight. So I fished another one of your letter out of my pocket, parked it on the writing table, and proceeded to write a letter to you on the blank side. [Which reminds me—is stationery so plentiful that you disdain to use both sides?] I had written the first two pages of this (recopied) when the six shots proceeded to make themselves felt. I suddenly became very drowsy, so I lay down my prn, undressed, and, with a sigh of contentment (to be sure), and a great deal of longing for my Chippie (but certainly), I crawled between the sheets. (The first since August 5).—And did they feel good! The next thing I knew, a chambermaid had unlocked the door to inform me that if I didn’t get up pronto I would miss breakfast. That thought didn’t appeal to me a little bit ’cause I was famished. I scrambled into my clothes, down the stairs, and into the dining room—and guess what I had for breakfast? Right! Scrambled eggs! Of course there was also sausage, stewed tomatoes (ugh!), oatmeal, and coffee. My date with Streamer and Junior was for 10 to 10:30 A.M. I arrived at the Eagle at 10:15. They had already eaten, so we adjourned to the lounge. We sat around for about an hour reading the encouraging news from Russia, and generally taking it easy. After this palled, we decided to catch up on some fresh air, so we walked over to Trafalgar Sq., which reminded me of Reyburn Plaza ’cause a lot of kids, and some grown-ups, were feeding the hundreds of pigeons that habitate that particular spot of London. During the course of our stroll I bought some Post-Cards for Ruthie. They are on the way. After getting all the fresh air we could stand, we adjourned once again to the club, where we ate a lunch of what the British are pleased to call Hamburgers, but which taste like nothing I ever ate, and, believe it or not, Pepsi-Cola! Yes, really! Once more to the lounge. It was almost time to catch the train (for me) and there really wasn’t anything else to do. Streamer had a fifteen day furlough (imagine!) and, having eight days to go, was planning to spend them in Scotland. Junior, who just had the week-end, was to catch a later train. My train was the 5:10 from Liverpool Station, so at 4 o’clock I took my leave of my two new-found friends, and took the U.G. to the Station. Thus ended another two-day pass, and I don’t mind telling you, the toughest part of the leave is the going back to Camp. But we must take the good with the bad. Altogether, I had one swell time, don’t you think?

26 Oct.

When I got back to Camp I went straight to the Orderly Room to see if there was any mail. No such luck! The next day, however, made up for it. Four (4) lovely letters—all from you, Chippie, and bringing your correspondence almost completely up-to-date. Eddie’s letter, that you enclosed, was a revelation (in more ways than one). He writes very nicely, and sounds not at all like the spoiled brat of two short years ago. His letter proves him every inch a man and a good soldier. I know  you are as proud of him as I am. I’m wishing very hard that if he is sent overseas, it will be to ETO. I’m very much afraid that our Jack went to the S. Pacific. I’m hoping, if so, that he winds up in Australia. Tell Petey  I appreciate his interest in Adele, and I think it’s swell of him to make all those snapshots of her, but, no Clair Pruett picture—no $50. That’s final! He’s perfectly welcome to the field-jacket, I’ll probably bring one home with me, anyhow. The carton of chewing-gum arrived yesterday, too, and I certainly was glad to get it. I’m not sure whether it was your gift or Harry’s, but thanks a million, anyhow. Glad to hear that you are looking better, darling; but then you always did look good to me. Glad, too, to learn the the Pallers finally have 4920 all to themselves. Good luck to them! Sorry the cherub is so much trouble, Sweet, and I wish heartily that I were there to take some of the load from your shoulders, but as time goes by and she finishes cutting teeth, I know she will be a good little girl. From the tone of your letters, though, troublesome as she may sometimes be, I’m sure you wouldn’t trade her for any other baby in the world. The adoration the neighbors shower on her is ample proof that she is a sweet kid, and I, for one, would ask for nothing better than to devote the rest of my life to making both her and you the happiest girls it would be in my power to accomplish. The news of the raise in the allotment came as a surprise to me, but a happy surprise. I know how important that extra money is to you, Sweet, and I’m glad that you’ll have the use of it.

And now—it is 11 P.M. and time for bed. I hope I haven’t bored you with all this. Good-night, Angel; I love you with a love that grows stronger with each passing hour; each passing hour that is slowly but surely whittling away the wall of time that keeps us from our eventual and eternal reunion. My love to all my dear ones. I am, as ever

Your devoted

No comments:

Post a Comment