World War I & II

 I’m taking advantage of ANZAC holiday to catch up on a few letters. (The day on which we remember our ‘finest hour’ when thousands of NZ soldiers were killed on the hills of Gallipoli in the 1st War – we humans must have the brains of peas!)

brains of peas

X rang and [partner] talked with him – I was quite glad to miss him actually. He was a young Lieutenant when Y and I were in Algiers – i/c a ‘small boat’ and whilst waiting for the invasion of Sicily he and some 8 others helped collate the Operation Orders for some 2 weeks.

Yes, X was the Art Director there and… when he went to Woburn Abbey in the war I joined them as soon as I could get away. There were some 10 people from [the company] there, oddly. X must be getting on now, when I was 18 I thought him pretty aged!!

It’s always nice to have a good excuse to ring you. I was talking this morning about the miserableness of lack of communication for people overseas during the war – it would have been wonderful in those days if one had been given a ration of one call every three months, or something! It is quite a different sort of communication to hear a voice as against reading writing (let alone typescript – though that does mean more on the page).

He was for a time on the Queen Elizabeth at a time during the war when she was used carrying 15,000 troops at a time from USA to Britain, and about 1,200 sick or prisoners on the way back. She apparently did not usually have an escort, but relied on her speed (something like 36 knots flat-out, if I remember rightly). He told me of an occasion when she was to rendezvous off Milford Haven with two cruisers who would look after her. Before long there was a radio warning of submarines and an order to adopt ‘Zigzag R’ (which involved full speed). No sooner had she worked up to that than one of the cruisers flashed a plaintive message, ‘Wait for me’!

The birds, bees and flowers

“We opened the Tea Garden… We get tourist lunches, old folk from Britain once a week which is great fun and they love coming here – last time a snake obliged by nearly climbing onto the veranda from the bougainvillea! and the sun birds are a treat, not to mention the hoopoes nesting in the corner of the roof (instead of a tree!)”

“Now in South of India, tropical flowers, spices and rain. We are in Hill Station of Ooty and we have a fire.”

[The James Iredell House, North Carolina] “Wish you were here to see the wonderful gardens – magnolia plantation had 900 species of azaleas and a wealth of other flowers… We spent 3 days in Charleston.”

“This has been an interesting day-tour into the rain-forest. There have also been beautiful blue and red parrots and birds called whip birds because of their call. They made me think of you.” [I wonder why???!]

“First time I have seen this tree. It is a frassino tree and grows only in Sicily or Calabria. The manna is used in the trade as a laxative and also for other medical purposes???”

“Wow! I have just seen an enormous wasp type thing about 1.5 inches – HUGE. We got attacked by monkeys yesterday! I was holding a banana – I suddenly became surrounded by monkeys. They looked as if they would climb all over me – so I hid the banana down my top and they went away!” [Lucky the monkeys weren’t too determined…]

whiskery fish
whiskery fish

“The garden was all palms and wild orchids and lovely plants with green and pink leaves! And a demented cockerel and a bunch of scatty hens… We went snorkelling about 5 times. We saw amazing blue starfish – their fingers were all sausage-fat and bright blue. And angel-fish and other stripey ones and an amazing thing called a half-beak – almost transparent from the side except for its eye which is halfway along its 2-3 foot body. When you looked down on them they were coloured though. We didn’t see many shoals of fish, which made the one of about 300 we saw on the last day all the more surprising! They were white and whiskery with a yellow streak down the side.”

“X related how they’d had a real gorilla in her youth in S. Africa – its mother had been shot – and they looked after the baby and played with it – until one day her sister teased it and it bit her – it was huge by then, about 5 – and their father said it had to go to the zoo. When they left it, it had tears running down its cheeks – as they all had, including her father – sad.”

“The countryside is so beautiful and all the orange cacci [persimmon] on the trees everywhere. They look like primitive paintings.”