March 19th 1942, Thursday.
Just think I’ve been writing to you for over a year now and I’ve just discovered it is a J not a T! It was rather embarrassing and I hope you’ll forgive me.
Hugh was in no need of forgiveness but he had managed to read Jim’s handwriting correctly this time. Having cleared up this misunderstanding, he begins to answer her correspondence.
First let me thank you for the Penguins. Anything you send me to read is very acceptable. Somehow you always manage to hit the right note. Your letter dated December the twentieth also arrived with the books. It had been so long since I had heard from you that I was beginning to despair. I have written more or less regularly but from your letters I gather that you haven’t received them all. At least the Airgraph reached you in reasonable time.
Just before I started to write this letter I was listening to a broadcast from England. Here are some snatches of it heard above the noise and conversation; ‘the rooks are beginning to build their nests in the tall elms behind the church’, ‘the swallows will be here soon’, ‘one can see, even at this early date, the pale green of spring grass’. Such broadcasts are bad for discipline don’t you think? I’d give a lot just to have a good look at a few pine trees and a little grass.
This letter appears to show Hugh in nostalgic mood and a hint of weariness. He had had very little leave and certainly no return to home shores for nearly a year. His mention of pine trees may have been a reference to either Scotland or America. The broadcast from England would have done little for his feelings even though he, like thousands of others, relied on the BBC for entertainment as well as for information and news. Programmes like ITMA, It’s That Man Again, were favourites with the troops.
So the ‘powers that be’ (i.e. Ministry of Labor) have refused to let you join the W.A.A.F.’s. I’m glad to hear it though you don’t seem very pleased about it. Somehow I can’t get accustomed to women in uniform. Perhaps I’m old fashioned but I can never take them quite seriously. Though I must admit they are doing their bit. At least you have the satisfaction in knowing that you are of more use in your present capacity than in any of the services.
In September 1941, Jim noted in her diary that she was still fed up with my job and would like to join the W.A.A.F.S. Although she was seriously thinking of quitting teaching, she continued to be interested in vacant posts but in the end stayed put until May 1944. Perhaps Hugh’s comment encouraged her to remain in education. He speaks with tongue in cheek about women’s roles. With two sisters at home, and with the changes that had taken place whilst he was growing up in both Scotland and America, he would have been aware of the potential influence of women and hints at this. Meanwhile, Jim was still putting in her Civil Defence hours and at the end of February 1942 became Leader of Fire Watching Section.
You keep reminding me that I tell you very little about my job in the Navy. You also mentioned the fact that my last letter to you had been censored and yet I tried to be as discrete as possible – for the life of me I can’t think what it was that the censor could object to. There is lots one could write about but that will have to wait until later. One thing I can say is that at least it is an interesting life. Conditions are better than most people think and a lot less romantic. Mostly work with a little excitement thrown in once in a while.
There is no evidence of any censoring of Hugh’s letters so far. The envelopes have not survived and it was not until his next letter, a letter card, that a censor’s stamp is visible. This raises the question of whether Jim retained all Hugh’s letters.
By the way did I tell you I had been promoted to Chief Petty Officer? There is really nothing to it except a few extra privileges. I’ve an idea I told you about this before but I’m not sure.
By making a second reference to his promotion, Hugh was obviously proud of his achievement for which he would have had to pass exams. Studying would have taken up much of his off-duty time both on land and at sea.
So you have read Mgt. Rawling’s ‘The Yearling’? Rather good wasn’t it? What do you think of E. A. Housman’s Last Poems? You are right it was I who had it on board the Samaria. I liked the New Writing you sent me. I’m afraid I’m getting a bit behind with the new authors. About the only decent books I have read lately are O. Spengler’s ‘Decline of the West’ and Henry Ford’s My Life and Work. The first is very heavy and takes some thinking out. It is overburdened with mysticism and reminds me of Nietzsche. Ford takes up most of his book trying to justify his financial power but he has some good ideas about industrial reorganisation.
A bit different but still grist in the mill is D.H. Lawrence’s ‘The Trespassers’. Lawrence seems always to be striving after something just out of reach. His loves are all tragedies and seem to suffer by contact with sordid surroundings and a lack of understanding in others.
You see it is a rather mixed lot but it is the best I can do.
Please turn to Books for March 1942 for descriptions of these titles.
It is good news to hear that the bombing has dropped off a bit in England. Germany seems to be very busy with Russia just now which partly explains it I think. We have suffered a couple of reverses since last I wrote but all in all I think our position is steadily improving. With America in it now it will make a difference. The States have an enormous potential industrial output and once it gets rolling the Axis will never catch up with it. One thing I’m glad of is that my family are still far out of the reach of any bomber. There was some news from them a short time ago and they are all well and as happy as is possible nowadays.
Your brother seems to be lucky in getting his share of leave. It is always easier when one is stationed in England. I’m glad to hear your family are all well and able to get together once in a while.
Hugh, with a hint of envy, was probably referring to Jim’s brother’s Christmas leave. Guy would have shared his time between visiting his mother and sisters in Parkgate and staying with his wife who was living with her mother in Newton-le-Willows. Peg was now pregnant with their first child and the family may have been informed of this during another period of leave in the middle of February. With elder brother Rob’s wife also pregnant, it was an exciting time in the family but perhaps less so for Jim herself.
For Hugh, there had been a lot of, to use his expression, watching and waiting since he last wrote to Jim. The boat moved about the harbour at Alexandria and there were some changes of personnel. An interesting entry in the log book is from February 16 when once again spirits of the alcoholic kind were lost. Three quarters of a pint of spirits leaked out due to a jar being cracked in transit from Medway to Osiris. On February 26, a Naval War Correspondent photographer was on board during the afternoon.
The last day of the month saw the Board of Enquiry in HMS Queen Elizabeth. It was attended by the commanding Officer and two other officers to ascertain damage to main engines during last patrol. Admiral Cunningham, commenting on the Captain’s Report for this patrol had recorded Lieut R S Brookes DSC, RN and his company did well to extricate HMS Osiris from a dangerous predicament. He went on, It is most disappointing that HMS Osiris, after prolonged efforts to make her fit for operational use, is again out of action for some months and proving a severe strain on the repair staff of HMS Medway.
March 1 was a Sunday and leave was granted in shifts. A few men at a time enjoyed some relaxation for a few hours. This pattern continued for the rest of the month. On March 7 Sub-Lieutenant Park took over the duties of 1st Lieutenant from Pardoe. A lot of cleaning and painting took place during this period. There were occasions when Osiris moved to alongside Medway for charging. Tests for seaworthiness were carried out including checks on the DSEA lockers. On the 18th Park was stood down to become part of the spare crew. Lieutenant Staveley assumed the 1st Lieutenant’s duties.
Meanwhile, Jim had been coping with the British winter and the worsening effects of war. She was similarly dejected. Her February diary mentions soap rationing and a reduced allowance for petrol. Even though Hugh says that the bombing has dropped off, German warships were dangerously close to the English coast and British air power was suffering. Churchill’s speech of February 15 brought more gloom with the fall of Singapore.
The half-term holiday week brought a little respite for Jim, constantly struggling with her reciprocated attraction to a married man. Then the weather turned very cold. With her usual resilience, not even snow prevented her going to Liverpool for a haircut. Later in the week, there was a shopping trip to Chester with brother Rob and his wife. They no doubt were buying for the expected new arrival whilst Jim treated herself to the longed-for portable wireless.
At home, Jim had a cleaning spree, turning out school magazines and swimming results. She carefully retained some to be kept all her life. She also found time to overhaul her bike and go for several walks. On March 5, at the end of the first week back at school, heavy snow prevented her from going. Instead, she wrote to Hugh and to Ray.
Write to me again soon, it was quite a relief to get your last letter.