To continue the story, we’ve turned the page of the calendar and are heading for the end of the conflict. The Battle of the Bulge, as it became known, was underway, an offensive by the Germany army to try and split the Allied line, retake Antwerp and force the Allies to sue for an unfavourable peace. But it failed. Meanwhile, back in Southern England one young man longed for his girlfriend and his call up; in his naïve 18 year old eyes, he was missing the fun.
In the first letter Dad talks about Happy and Glorious! a show at the London Palladium that the ‘kids’ from County Hall went to. This starred Tommy Trinder and ran for 938 performances between 1944 and 1946 and was stirringly patriotic.
In spite of the jolly show, however, what comes across is the sadness. He knew – they both knew – that now he was finally off to join the forces, the chances were high that, at best their leaves would not coincide and at worst he could be off fighting before he saw her again. ‘I’ve only known you a year…’ he says, almost with an audible sigh. And he had a nickname – ‘Poppa’ which suggests Mum treated him like a bit of an old man – a fusspot, she called him in later life – which was clearly a trait he had from his youth.
So the enthusiasm of the early letters is sliding, not for lack of love but for lack of opportunity and an unspoken fear of the future. There’s nearly a month to the second letter, by which time Dad is a member of His Majesty’s Armed Forces…
The mood definitely picks up, here, in the second letter, despite the isolation of Fort George in Scotland where a lot of volunteers and conscripts were sent for basic training. He tells us that the army is a fine life (a view he changed later on) and the members of his eight man cell are jolly good, all ex RAF Volunteer reservists like Dad. And Dad is playing at real soldiery with his own rifle, a Bren Gun and grenades. He has also been on fatigues for minor crimes. Almost certainly his mouth ran away with him – he was a little to clever for his own good and having embraced the physical punishments of a public school, didn’t really worry about whatever the army might do – it didn’t live up to what he had already experienced. If he told one story he told dozens about his scraps with authority during his time with both institutions. He often railed against misspent youth, and moaned about ‘the young of today’ but always with half an eye on Mum, who would soon point out the hypocrisy if he went on too long.
One other theme that he mentions is how his relatives think volunteering for the ‘Red Devils’ is some sort of stupid bit of boyish heroism. His mother never really understood this urge to fly and while his father was hugely proud of him, he was their only child and they would understandably be reluctant to risk losing him now the war was so nearly at an end. If they had known about his expressed wish to jump on Japan they would have had kittens….