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Gerald R. Rees Papers: Transcripts - MS 1007

Gerald Rees Correspondence - December 1944

December 2, 1944

[V-Mail]

Saturday, Dec. 2 [1944]

Dear Mom,

These past days have been packed with new experiences some of which are permissible to repeat. This V-mail installment is an experiment to see if it travels as fast as air-mail. Another letter will leave when this does, and I hope you will tell me which type is most desireable and why. Perhaps the next letter will tell what part of the world we're in; censorship overseas seems to be more lenient than we've had so far. I read your letter when we sailed and will keep and remember it.

Love,
Ger

December 2, 1944

Saturday, Dec. 2 [1944]

Dear Mom,

This seems like a long time to go without sending or receiving mail, and I suppose you're rather wondering why the delay. I hope this will go out soon after we land to end the suspense.

Thanksgiving, 1944, was the strangest and most exciting one I've spent yet. In spite of the newness of living and eating on a ship which one minute drops out from under foot like and elevator and then does a little dance step sideways, there were huge helping of turkey and dressing to remind us it was Thanksgiving.

For convenience in rather close quarters we are fed only twice a day, which eases the K.P.'s labor and is really more sensible anyhow, since we do no work to speak of. Some aspects of ship life are hard to get used to. There is no waste space, of course, and going from one place to another takes a lot of patience and perseverance. Bathing is done in salt water, which looks beautifully foamy at a distance but soap does not phase it. There will be long and patient scrubbing to remove the accumulated grime when we reach port.

Since we were allowed to tell you that we were on the east coast, no censor can prevent you from deducing what ocean we are on. It is quite awe-inspiring to one brought up in the middle West, and really merits all the songs and stuff written about the sea. I can sit by the rail by the hour, watching the changing shapes and colors of the water and sky. Sometimes the waves seem to tower above the deck; sometimes the water is calmer than Lake Erie ever is. Rain squalls can be seen coming from miles away, and today there was a rainbow so close I could have almost touched the proverbial pot of gold. At night it is entirely different-the ship seems almost like a ghost slipping through the water. Knowing a few stars helps while the time away and provides practice for amateur navigators.

There are a lot of unexpected and incongruous sidelights. Today over the loudspeaker system there suddenly burst forth Ted Husing broadcasting the Army-Navy football game by shortwave, and bringing us up-to-date on the sports events of the past week. I was sorry to hear that Michigan was beaten by Ohio State-wonder if E. & J. saw the game. In spite of chronic griping, the army does make an honest effort to give us extra things to make up for some of the things we have to do.

I'm considering going into the soft-drink business after the war. In exploring the ship another fellow and I discovered a hold where they distribute Pepsi-Cola by the case. So every night we lug several cases back to our quarters and make a nice profit on the deal. There's no competition since the other fellows haven't discovered where we get it.

There is a very small but excellent collection of books aboard plus magazines and detective stories provided by the Red Cross, so there is no dearth of reading material. The Red Cross has been right on the ball ever since we left. At the pier when we embarked, the naturally gloomy and serious atmosphere was dispelled by a small but determined brass band and the Red Cross serving hot coffee and doughnuts. Cold and tired from lugging our equipment around, it was a wonderful spirit-lifter. They also gave out kits containing everything under the sun that we might need, from soap and pencils to a chess set and playing cards, all in a very useful cloth bag.

There were quite a few cases of sea-sickness and with men getting sick and losing their breakfasts all around, it was hard not to get sick out of sympathy, but the waves have no apparent effect on my stomach.

Let me know the comparative times of arrival of this and the V-mail which I'm also writing tonight-I haven't much faith in V-mail.

I'm sure your letters and package will catch up with us soon, and I'll write as quickly as I can when we are on land again.

With love,
Ger

December 5, 1944

[V-mail]
England, Dec. 5, 1944

Dear Mom,

You know that I'm usually prone to be over optimistic about things, but this is better than I had dared hop for. What we have seen of England is as I had always imagined; wish I could describe the town and countryside where we are, but the name wouldn't mean anything if I did tell you. We are billeted in a hotel-hot & cold water in each room and the most beautiful view from my window imaginable. Quaint narrow streets, hedges, friendly people on bicycles, pretty good food so far. They're changing all our money to pounds and shillings which should be interesting.

Love,
Ger

December 7, 1944

England, Dec. 7 [1944]

Dear Mom,

Yesterday I visited a small town called Swanage but most of the time I was there was after dark; contrary to any rumors you may hear, the English blackout is still very black. Here and there a window let a little light into the street, but there wasn't much to be seen. I hope there will be daytime passes given out soon so we can see a little more. The most striking things about England to me is the beauty of the houses and gardens, even in December. There are lots of flowers, shrubs, green grass and trees. Not a square foot of soil is left uncultivated, and some of the gardens look more like early summer instead of winter.

The homes are all brick and stone; I haven't seen a frame building yet. Even the roofs are tile or flat stones laid like shingles. The effect is one of strength and permanence. Huge bay windows and fancy dormers and gables predominate. English homes have no central heating, and each room has its fireplace with separate chimneys which make the roofs look like a forest of brick chimneys. As we found out to our sorrow when we tried to drive nails to hang clothing, there are no laths or molding; the wallpaper is on plaster which is put right on the outside stone or brick wall. this of course makes for dry, cozy rooms. We have no closets, so clothing has to be left in our duffel bags. There are only two other fellows in the room with me, which means that I have more privacy and comfort than any time since I've been in the army. We've tinkered around and made the room pretty livable, although the heating problem is pretty unsatisfactory.

Hiking used to be an unpleasant chore, but now it's a pleasure to walk through the countryside. All of the homes have high decorative fences or hedges around them which shut them off from their neighbors and the street, but usually we can get a glimpse of them through the gate. Everyone has flowers and rock-gardens and very well-kept lawns. There are few driveways or garages, but everyone has a bicycle. There is a grammar school near here, and yesterday we were treated with the sight of a portly schoolmarm riding her bicycle down the walk with two or three youngsters tagging along beside her-just the opposite of what would be done in America.

Everything is rationed and heavily taxed, from tea to haircuts. I've just been reading the help-wanted column in a newspaper, and wages seem pitifully low. The few cars on the streets are very small and old, and everyone is poorly dressed. Old clothes are the fashion. We are considered very wealthy, and the natives are glad to have us spending our money here. There is very little to buy, however. Much as I'd like to send something, I doubt if there will be any Christmas presents this time.

The monetary system seems simple enough on paper, but utterly confusing when you go to pay for something. Usually we offer a handful of coins and then spend several minutes trying to decide whether they gypped us or not. Coffee and tea are 3d or thruppence, cakes are 6d, movies from 1s to 2s 9d, sometimes written 2/9 or 2 shillings nine pence-about 55¢. Best way is to forget the price equivalent in dollars and cents, and pay the English coin without worrying whether the price is fair or not. The paper currency is the ten-shilling note ($2.00) and one-pound note ($4.00) but they don't fit into an American billfold. But we'll just have to get used to the system, for all of our pay will be in pounds and shillings. The army issued little books explaining the customs of the country, currency, and a very handy glossary which helps translate British slang. So instead of seeing the movie at the local theater, I'll see the flicker at the cinema, where I'll que up at the booking-office for a book (line up at the ticket window for a ticket) and then find an empty stall (seat). Incidentally, the balcony and down-front seats are more expensive, instead of cheaper as at a U.S. theater. The little trains with compartments with separate doors instead of regular coaches seem strange but very exclusive and secluded, just like the fences around the homes. The British are like that, or were till the American soldiers came and wore down their resistance. Now they are pretty friendly as a rule.

A small but much-appreciated feature of our hotel is the generous number of bath tubs. We have had showers fro so long that soaking in a tub full of piping hot water is a real privilege. They may also have to serve as laundry tubs, since we have no laundry service here.

Food is mostly canned, dehydrated or powdered. Quantity is ample, and especially welcome are the generous supplies of canned pineapples and grapefruit juice. Health remains good in spite of damp and cool climate. Morale could only be raised higher by mail from home, but after all, we can't have everything, and maybe it will arrive soon. Hope you are all well and happy.

Love,
Ger

December 11, 1944

American Red Cross

England, Dec. 11, 1944

Dear Mom,

First weekend in Olde England was very satisfactory. I felt almost like a civilian again-luxurious bath, show, church, chicken for Sunday dinner; everything but listening to the Philharmonic. Of course, it wouldn't be broadcast here till 8 P.M. even if I had my radio with me.

The show "Rebecca", an old picture but the best I've seen in some time. The scenes and speaking seemed much more real to me now since they took place in England. I had always through that movie versions of English speech were exaggerated, but they're not.

We had tea in a little "shoppe" which did something to their tea, I don't know what, to make it almost drinkable. I never used to like tea, but this was really good. They also served French-fried potatoes which are known here as chips-hence the old expression about "fish and chips". It's impossible to get a regular restaurant meal because things are so strictly rationed. We have found that for real coffee and very good doughnuts, the best-and only-place to come is right here at the Red Cross canteen, which takes the place of the U.S.O. in the States. There are the pubs, of course, which are ore respectable than an American bar, but still don't hold much attraction for me.

Sunday morning our hotel room became a barber shop. Hair-cutting is a serious problem now, and we were all delighted when we learned that one of the fellows could cut hair and had borrowed a pair of clippers and scissors. So I was able to go to church looking at least half-way respectable, although we haven't had cleaning or pressing service for almost a month. There will just have to be different standards of cleanliness for clothing over here. Anyhow, with so much rain, no one expects clothes to have a press in them.

The church was a small Baptist chapel which is housing three bombed-out congregations-Methodist, Congregational, and Baptist-who alternate preachers and seem to be getting along fine together. The Methodist Church is a beautiful structure, and it's a shame to see the mess that parts of it are now.

In the afternoon we walked for hours, getting our first good look at the countryside in daylight. We saw buildings which were standing a thousand years ago, still in use and not much different in appearance from the "new" houses which were built in 1700 or so. The shops are a strange mixture of ancient and modern which is appealing.

I'm getting these tuppences and shillings straight now, but it's an unwieldy system to use.

I wonder where Eleanor and Johnny are now. Mail ought to be coming now but very little and only V-mail is getting here.

Love,
Ger

December 17, 1944

England, Dec. 17, 1944

Dear Mom,

Biggest news item this week is a very successful trip to London. I've sent a couple of theatre programs and a map which you might like to see and save for me. Both plays were very good-the Noel Coward one especially was full of wit and had a good plot. We worked hard and scientifically at the job of sight-seeing, and, I think, saw as much as we could have in the time available. The trip was made possible by the Red Cross-they fed and housed us for practically nothing. Meals were all 1/3 or 25¢, and bed with real sheets (see how little it takes to please me?) was 2 shillings.

Since hotels and restaurants are exorbitantly priced even if available, it sold me on the Red Cross more than ever. They arranged a two-hour taxi-cab tour of the city for us which included about all of the high spots-Buckingham Palace, St. Paul's Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Tower of London, and other things. Next morning we were lucky enough to see the ceremony of changing the guard at Buckingham Palace. They have a large band for the occasion, bagpipes, and marching like clockwork. The whol show takes over an hour, I guess. We spent quite a while at Westminster Abbey, and I was devoutly thankful for what little I could remember about English literature and history. it was a strange feeling to walk over little squares in the floor with such legends as "Hic Requiescat William Shakespeare" or "Here lies Neville Chamberlain" or Oliver Goldsmith, Lord Byron, Tennyson, Gladstone, Disreali, Longfellow, Burns, Pitt, Henry Purcell, Livingston, and almost every other famous person from English history. The Abbey is beautiful, but many of the statues and decorations are bricked up for protection against bombs. At St. Paul's the same is true; we was where the huge delayed-action bomb had fallen and was removed without exploding. The Tower of London merited a lot of time; to my surprise it is not just a tower, but an entire fortress covering a lot of ground and containing a lot of relics from medeaeval times. Many of the names were are familiar with such as Piccadilly Circus, the Strand, Travalger Square are just names of the streets and intersections and aren't very impressive. Their subway system, or Underground, is very modern and well-planned. It was quite a shock to me to see how many people were bedding down for the night in the subway tunnels and reminded us that there's still a severe shortage of housing. Every one is very non-commital about the V-bomb, Hitler's "secret weapon". They've been through so much that this doesn't excite them.

We saw Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament but couldn't get in to see them in session. Walked down Pall Mall and Birdcage Walk, Fleet Street, Whitehall, crossed London Bridge (very ordinary). Train service to and from London was pre-arranged and very satisfactory. Our passes were timed so we could catch trains both ways without wasting time; all in all the army was pretty considerate about things. Discounting the times we were almost run over because we looked the wrong way for on-coming traffic, the whole trip was pretty care-free. London traffic is pretty hazardous for an American used to right-hand drive. It makes Piccadilly Circus a real circus to get across.

Today was spent in an ancient village near here which has a fascinating ruined castle which dates back 1400 years or so. For six pence you can climb all around the thing. It's enormous, has stone walls ten feet thick, the traditional moat, towers and archways, and commands a view of the whole surrounding countryside. The village is huddled up below the castle, and has all sorts of little shops, thatched roofs, and a beautiful little church built in the 14th century. Had tea in a little shop which reeked with history. The people always seem willing to talk about their town and houses if you show a little sincere interest in them. Most G.I.'s seem to want no more than to know where the nearest pub is.

There was a big batch of mail in yesterday-I didn't get any, but at least they know we're here and it should come through better from now on.

I had hoped to send a Christmas greeting via cablegram, but guess they aren't taking that sort of message because of the rush. So you'll know I'm thinking about you on Christmas even if I can't send anything.

Love,
Ger

December 19, 1944

[V-mail]
England, Dec. 19, 1944

Dear Mom,

I have become a V-mail convert. Our first large batch of mail came yesterday, including your letters numbered 1, 2, 3, and 5. The V-mail one made best time by a week. You can't imagine how good it was to be getting mail again. Our Thanksgivings were equally gay, weren't they? You down with a cold, and me bound for foreign soil. Let's hope Christmas is better. It's strange to think that Vernon was landing on U.S. soil just as I was getting my first look at England, isn't it? Nothing could be better than if he were coming towards Toledo at Christmas time. E. & J. must be settled at Boise now, wish they'd write so I'd know their address. The trip to Massilon is bound to be a pleasant one-or I should say was one.

Continued on next page-Ger

[V-mail]
England, Dec. 19, 1944

Dear Mom,

Did you get the mix up about Reyn's present straightened up? I could see impending disaster when Grace mentioned that tool chest. Things are getting faintly like Yule-tide around here-there's a Christmas tree out on our back terrace, and they're planning some sort of dance on Christmas Eve. Tomorrow night a U.S.O. camp show group from the States is putting on a play. Things are better organized than they were: we have a P.X. finally so we can get soap and candy bars and miscellaneous stuff that the downtown stores either don't have or is strictly rationed. The weather has turned very mild and muddy.

Glad to hear of Hoffy's operation; always thought his trouble was glandular, and perhaps he'll settle down and be the success his ability merits. How about sending the Monday Blade's news summarys now and then? Yes, I knew Al Hoover-darn shame; also Jim Massey.

Love,
Ger

December 21, 1944

[V-mail]
England, Dec. 21, 1944

Dear Mom,

News of the day: package arrived last night with nary a scar. Timing was perfect; you were swell to send it off so soon. All the gaily wrapped packages will do wonders to aid the Christmas spirit which is somehow creeping into these war-like surroundings. Our tree is set up in the mess hall and some ingenious soul has contrived a fine set of lights for it from scraps of wire and spare flashlight bulbs. Holly trees (bushes?) grow wild around this locality, and the halls are "decked with boughs of holly" like in the song, and are as pretty as any commercial decorations would be. Hints from the kitchen give promise of something pretty special to eat for the occasion. The noncoms are having a tea dance with some W.A.A.F.'s who are stationed nearby as guests, which should be interesting and fun.

Tonight I sent a cablegram which would normally reach home overnight, but at this season it may not even arrive by Christmas. Thought it would be worth-while to try, anyhow. Some sent cables when they arrived here, but they turned out to be slower than letters. Your V letter of Dec. 12 came today. I wish you had sent Bill Kirk's A.P.O. number. As you can tell by the dates of my letters, his path and mine very nearly crossed-and may yet, for that matter. Remember me to O.B. Anxious to hear about Vernon, too.

Weather continues alternately fog, rain, and sun, very like mid-autumn in temperature. papers tell of very deep snow around home-it must keep the folks on Putnam Street busy clearing their walks. Wonder if Lee Gunn still comes out and fusses over their sidewalks, or is he still working long hours?

You mentioned Margaret Jean, so I gather that she is home with Aunt Sadie. Where is Edith? Was surprised to hear that Lee had another furlough, especially at Christmas time. Anita must have been happy about it.

We are trying to limber up our rusty minds with some computing classes these days; happily the formulas seem to come back to me easily. I only hope I can remember some of my long-lost schooling when I get back in college; sometimes it worries me. Every month here pays for a month in school some day, so I shouldn't complain.

If these three parts of my letter don't arrive together, you'll find them pretty confusing, but guess it wouldn't be any great loss.

Love,
Ger

December 26, 1944

[V-mail]
England, Dec. 26, 1944

Dear Mom and Pop,

Christmas was quite successful this year, all things considered. Thanks ever so much for the things you sent-all of them impossible to get here and much appreciated, as well as the care you took in doing them up so well. Olives and dates would be especially appreciated in some future package. One of the things which also contributed to a good Christmas was the wealth of music which we heard from my radio which is finally here and wired for British current. That took some deep thought, since this is 240 volts and the radio was built to play on 110. A light bulb wired in series with it did the trick, and the result is like opening a window in a dark room. There are always good programs, either from the British stations, the special American station from which Charlie McCarthy, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, etc. can be heard from recorded rebroadcasts, or the German propaganda stations which have excellent music most of the time. We aren't bothered with commercials or soap operas, and the propaganda is very amusing some times. Just now there was a "news" broadcast telling how well the Deutschers are doing in France and Russia. The American station has news every hour, to which we pay very close attention, as you can imagine. I think the British are generally poor except the classical music. If I'd had a little more time studying German the foreign language broadcasts would be good practice. As it is, I can catch word or phrase here and there.

Sunday evening we went out to the village by the castle which I mentioned before. There was a beautiful Christmas Eve service at a small but ornate Church of England. The hymns were disappointing because the tunes were all strange. There was almost a white Christmas yesterday-a heavy frost. After a huge meal of turkey, cranberry sauce, and all the trimmings we walked to another old village and saw some of the finest "home-grown" decorations imaginable. Holly hedges loaded with berries, chrysanthemums all over the place.

No letters since yours of Dec. 11, but Lee sent a Christmas letter which came today.

Love,
Ger

December 27, 1944

[V-mail]
England, Dec. 27, 1944

Dear Mom,

Don't know what to say-I was almost speechless when your second Christmas box came today. You're becoming expert in packing, so nothing was even dented. The cookies were like just out of the oven. The nuts will be saved for such time as we aren't so well fixed for eats and they will be more appreciated. All these good things at once are going to spoil us. The prize item which will be perfect when we're in the field is the little stove from E. & J. Can't say how much I appreciate it and the soup and cocoa to go with it. Don't have time to elaborate on this, but I'll add to it just as soon as I can.

Love,
Ger

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