A Paratrooper’s Prayer
When I’m flying at seven hundred
And the red light flickers on
I know I’ll tremble and start to sweat
But, God, let me be strong.
When I look down through the hole, God
It’s like I’m standing by a grave
And my knees go weak and I can’t speak
Then, God, please make me brave.
And if it be Thy will, God
Part of Thine own Great Plan
That my life should stop, then on that last long drop
Oh God, let me die a man!
While I’m waiting to emplane, God
And checking my jumping kit
Though I laugh and jeer I’m full of fear
But, God, don’t let me quit.
When the kite begins to move, God
And take off time is near
Then my heart grows cold – God, make me bold
And drive away my fear.
26th May 1945
To 3 Coy
Before I write any news I have an apology and explanation to give. I couldn’t phone you last Tuesday because like the fool I am I lost the letter containing your number. Actually I slept at the union Jack Club and got home the next morning. Anyway, Barbs, thanks for the most wonderful evening of my whole leave. I had a damn good time and I hope you enjoyed yourself too. Also thanks for the Sunday and please tell your Mama (I think that is what you called her?) that I going to write to her soon.
Well, Barbs, I am now doing the toughest training I have tackled so far and I have approximately another fortnight of it to look forward to, and then, if I pass out satisfactorily, I do my jumps. The sort of thing we do here is climbing up a 50 ft sheer cliff using just a rope, and running 10 miles in full battle order. We are billeted in little huts which are b…. cold and which have to be kept scrupulously clean. We also have to blanco our equipment every night. My God, this joint is just about tied up with red tape, but if I can get through the count I shall consider it worth it. Most of our instructors were in the drops on D. Day and at Arnhem so you can guess what a tough bunch they are. Still, they are a damn decent bunch.
Well, darling, there is no more news so I will close and do my accursed blancoing. This is awfully short, I know, but if you know how tired I am you would understand.
Good night, Barbs, God Bless
All my love
P.S. I know it is really no business of mine but nevertheless I shall risk your displeasure and give you some fatherly advice, one and only! For Pete’s sake give up the idea of overseas service because even if you only go to Europe, that damned place is full of disease and horror and you are not the sort of girl to go there. Please don’t think I mean that last remark disparagingly, Barbara, – far from it, because I admire your courage in wanting to go, but yesterday I talked to a man just back from Holland and he said some of the sights made even him feel sick, and he is an ex-Marine Commando. Also, Barbs, don’t forget that you are the “one & only” in your Mother’s eyes. You will probably call me a damn fool for writing this and I suppose it does sound a bit tripey and sentimental but I don’t care; I mean it all. Lastly, my child, don’t forget me. What would I do if you went careering all over the shop in your lorry and I was stuck in China or some such awful joint. I should probably go AWOL and come (like Sir Galahad) to rescue you from the hands of the villainous French, or something.
I’ve made it! – my first jump, I mean. Yesterday morning in the pale, cold light of dawn I diced with death, in other words, I jumped from a balloon at 800 feet yesterday morning. Oh boy, Barbs, it’s the greatest thrill you can imagine. One minute you are hurtling down through space and the next your shute opens and you are floating gently to earth. It is no use my saying I was not scared. I have never felt so awful in my life as I did when I stood at the door and looked down, waiting for the instructor to tap me on the shoulder and say “Go”. I have now 2 more balloon jumps to make (one at night) and then 5 jumps from a Dakota aircraft. Weather providing we’ll get them all done this coming week and get our wings next weekend. If this happens it means I shall get leave in about 10 days time. Sixteen glorious days, during which, of course, I must see you if you can make it. I can’t say definitely if this leave is exactly 10 days time or not, because as I said it all depends on the weather. However, I’ll let you know as soon as I can and ring up your Mama she will perhaps be able to let me know if you are likely to get home or not. I must see you because although the b…. fool Army says I am too young (too young! Me!!!) to be sent abroad, nevertheless I can, I think, volunteer for Active Service abroad, and, of course, I intend to. So maybe this will be my last leave in England, and if I left without seeing you, Barbara, I guess I would be a pretty sad and lonely soldier.
I wrote to your mother just before I left Hardwich but I haven’t received a letter yet from her. Of course, I know she is very busy being a manageress of a Naafi must be a really full time job. I’ll write to her again soon because I think she’s great and a damned good sport.
Here at Ringway we are billeted in Nissen huts and have a wireless in every hut. Honestly, it’s the cushiest joint I’ve ever been in, the only trouble being the pretty tough mental strain before doing a jump. However, that can soon be overcome and I wouldn’t change my life for anything now that I know the wonderful thrill of a jump. And besides, I want to get that little pair of wings on my right shoulder. I am doing my second jump tomorrow at 5.30 of all outrageous times, so here’s hoping the weather remains good.
Well, darling child, I must close and try and get some sleep now, reveille is at 2.30!
All my love
P.S. Please write soon.
P.P.S. Hope you like the photo. I think I look like a ruddy Army cadet!
2nd July 1945
To 3 Coy
Thanks very much for your letter which I received yesterday. I was awfully sorry to hear about your accident and I hope you are quite OK now. You know, old girl, an argument is all very well, but is it quite politic to disagree with a Bedford truck. And, by the way, even a very inexperienced layman like myself has heard of a Bedford!!
Thanks a lot, sweetheart, for the “improper suggestion” (improper? – nuts!) but my leave will be over by August, I am afraid, and I may be on my way to Florida by then. You see, I get 16 days directly I finish my jumps, and that will be ….
I guess I must close and get a little sleep.
Don’t go letting any more damn trucks run into you, Barbs, it’s not done in the ‘elite’ circles, you know!
Also don’t forget, however short the time may be, I just have to see you, because although everything is very uncertain this may be embarkation leave and we go and do our battalion in India or Florida. I’ll be praying you can make it, darling!
All my love
P.S. About odd odes – I am working on one at the moment, but I don’t get much spare TIME. However, when inspiration hits me, I’ll let you know.
Late August 1945
Thanks very much for the card. I received them both while we were on a scheme, so I couldn’t answer until now. It’s funny, I always seem to get your letters when I am on a scheme.
Glad you liked the broach, tie-pie or whatever it was. I would have liked to have given it to you in person, but I wouldn’t have known where to pin it!!
I’m sorry I couldn’t see you while you were on leave – c’est la guerre. As for sharing the settee with you, Barbs, I can think of no better way of spending a night. Maybe I’ll try it sometime – or shouldn’t I say that?
You appear to be having a rather strenuous time, apparently building sand-castles and paddling. The donkey ride sounds rather intriguing, darling, but what did the donkey think, I wonder?
So you don’t like afternoon tea, now. It’s a lousy experience, and many, many times have I suffered. Never mind, you can never reach my depths. My mother has gallantly attempted to teach me the rudiments of table behaviour, but I think even she believes she had failed miserably. Of course, Army meals are not calculated to improve matter at all. Probably one day in the far future, you will be able to face the vicar and wife over a cup of tea without fear, but as for myself, I’m afraid my depraved soul is well and truly stuck on the downward path. I think the best thing for us to do, Barbs, when we have tea, is to retire to some secluded corner where we can spill and drop things to our hearts content.
Well, I leave Beverley either next weekend of the beginning of the following week. Where we are going, God only knows, but I have high hopes it will be somewhere in the south. There are rumours that we go to the new joint, dump our kit, and then go on embarkation leave. Don’t bank on this though, just hope and pray. It was only about 5 weeks ago when I last saw you, but it seems a hell of a long while. If I do get any leave, do you think you’ll be able to get a 48 or something like that?
By the way, who in the hell are all these blokes who kiss you in Regent St., Piccadilly and Trafalgar Square!! I wish I had been there, because I would have done my damnedest to monopolize you (for you own good, of course!!) On second thoughts, though, I rather think you are very capable of looking after yourself. Probably developed a definite technique as a result of constant practice!!
Seriously though, I would have liked to have been in London for V.J. day. We had a really miserable time – hardly any alcohol, absolutely no cigarettes, and there were so many damned females of a more or less doubtful type hanging around, that after a time even the paratroops got browned off with them. We only had one day, anyhow, because it was ordinary work for us on V.J.+1. However, I am hoping to make up for this when I get some leave. Will you help me, Barbs, or must it be a solo effort? So you can understand I am completely fed up with the ruddy north, and I will be damned glad to leave Beverley. There is absolutely nothing to do here, the flicks are only open in the evenings, and not at all on Sundays, and the most miserable thing of all is that there is no music or singing allowed in the pubs. We didn’t get it at first, and we used to make a hell of a noise if we were on a binge, but after we had been kicked out of eight pubs for singing, it gradually dawned on us that Beverley stank. As for the dances, well this will tell you what they are like. One of my pals picked up a dame at a dance and made a date with her. He showed us her photograph and she looked a very delectable little piece. Well, he went off to keep his date and returned about an hour later looking considerably worried. It appeared that this girl had told she was 19 but actually she was 15. When she went home she told her father about her paratrooper and the old boy was somewhat annoyed. So instead of the girl keeping the date, her father kept it, and threatened the poor paratrooper with all sorts of things, accused the bloke of attempted seduction and various other little pastimes. The trouble is the bloke was soused when he met her at the dance, and he says for all he knows the old man might be right!! He is a broken relic of a man now, says he will never get over the shock of finding out that the woman he picked up was only 15. Of course, we were highly amused, but it does show what can happen at a Beverley dance.
I’m afraid this is a terrible letter, but at the moment I am completely browned-off. You can’t realize how cheerless an Army hut can be on a Sunday afternoon. Most of the boys are sleeping, three are playing their version of poker in the corner and four men are amusing themselves trying to paint their pal with blanco and whitewash. I have a ringside view here, on an upper bunk. From what I can see I don’t think I’d better go into detail, sweetheart, you would definitely be shocked.
By the way, you said your letter was a lot of bloody drivel. Darling, I don’t care what you write so long as you do write. I love hearing from you and I really mean that, so please keep on writing, even if you do think it “bloody drivel”. If you stopped writing I wouldn’t have anything to look forward to.
I am sorry I have not been able to make up any odes lately. Inspiration seems to have deserted me. Have you heard this, by the way:
There was a young lady of Joppa
Who came a society cropper
She went to Ostend
With a gentleman friend
And the rest of the story’s improper!
Well, so long for now, Barbs, write soon and add your prayers to mine that I’ll soon get some leave.
All my love
P.S. I am afraid this is a bit long, but try reading it by instalments! I never thought I could write so much at one sitting.