c/o Mrs Reid, Gilcomston Park, Aberdeen
We made it, pal. We made it. But only just. We left Royal Arthur at 7pm on Friday. The train left prompt at 8.25 and we eventually arrived at our billets here at 8.10pm Saturday, which explains why I didn’t write last night. But let me start at the beginning.
Everything went swimmingly until we got to Berwick. There had been an air raid warning sometime during the night, although we did not realise it when we were all having a nark with one stupid lad in our carriage who would insist on keeping his blind up after dark. Had we known that then he would have been smacked well and truly under the chin, as one or two of the lads threatened to do. We were lucky in the travelling arrangements. We did not have to leave the train once between Skegness and Edinburgh. There were about 100 of us all told when we left and we dropped the first contingent, bound for Ayr, at Newcastle. Then when we got to Berwick we found that part of the track had been slightly damaged during the raid and that there had been a slight accident somewhere else. That meant we had to go all round the world to reach Edinburgh where we were due for breakfast at 8am. We eventually got there about 10.30am and dashed off for breakfast, our meal on the train having consisted of corned beef sandwiches, a slab of ration chocolate, and a packet of biscuits. We had to wait then until 2pm for a train to Aberdeen and eventually arrived here at 6 o’clock. Then we had to be sorted out into different parties for billeting purposes, listen to a little homily on good behaviour from the Master at Arms, unload hammocks and kit bags from the train, take them on to different lorries in correct order and tour Aberdeen dropping about 20 fellows at a dozen different houses. I am in a billet with Percy and we were next to last to be dropped so, as I say, it was about 8 o’clock when we eventually sat down to a meal. The house, like almost all of Aberdeen, is built of granite and would be considered quite a substantial house in Liverpool. The rooms are big and kept spotlessly clean although the old lady and her married daughter who run it are not so spotless in their own personal appearance. The food is not fancy, but so far there has been plenty of it. We certainly cannot complain of quantity, but the place seems to be run on a commercial basis. There are about 16 fellows in the house, of whom 13 are sailors, one an A.F.S. man and the others civvies. One of the snags, as you can imagine, is the bathroom etc, which is all in one room. I can see there being a real rush in the mornings when everyone has to be out about the same time.
There are two separate colleges, one for operators and one for mechanics. Ours is the furthest away and we will have to be out before 8 o’clock to start at 8.30 and go on until 5pm. We can get a bus at the end of the road and one big advantage is that members of the services only have to pay a penny on any Corporation service, no matter how far they may travel. That is an excellent arrangement as if the fares were heavy we should have to face half an hour’s walk four times a day. We went along to the school today, were sorted out into classes and had all sort of particulars noted, age, religion, are you T.T. etc.
Then we had to march a mile or so to see the doctor. When we got there we filed into a passage, a sick bay steward came out, asked if anybody was ill or wanted to see the doctor and showed the rest of us out into the street. That was the medical exam here, but quite the best way of doing it as we saw the doc at Skegness on Friday morning. Then on to the dentist who takes his job very seriously and who found work to be done on fellows who had been passed as dentally fit at Skeg. He told me to see him again in eight weeks. When we came out of there we only had time to walk back for dinner. This afternoon we met some of the lads and took a bus to a place called Duthie Park where a lovely new bridge, which later proved to be one of the show places of the city, spans the River Dee. The scenery is marvellous here. Real salmon river and marvellous hills, some of which are still snow-crowned. All the way up in the train it was the same and, long though the journey was, it went more easily than I had hoped.
As to Aberdeen itself I still have an open mind which is likely to be affected by two main issues: the question of leave and whether or not we get a tobacco allowance. There is disquieting news, or rather, rumour about the leave question. The fellows in our billet are for the most part wireless mechanics and they take an entirely different course, but they have had no leave whatever since they joined the Navy and they all came here from Skegness! They say that so far as they know there is no leave from Aberdeen until the end of the course – that is 18 weeks from now. Apparently what happens is that we do a day’s training in small arms tomorrow and then start our course on Tuesday. There is a one-day break on Easter Monday, not Good Friday, and then the course goes on steadily 8.30 to 5 (and 8.30 to 12.30 Saturdays) for a full 18 weeks. There are successive examinations after 5, 12, and 18 weeks when certain speeds have to be reached and to pass you have to attain 90% marks! Which looks as if the standard is high. Lads here say so far as they know the course in Aberdeen consists of Morse and similar subjects almost entirely and that little, if any, technical training is done here. After 18 weeks, if we pass out, we get leave and are transferred to another camp, possibly at Lee-on-Solent in the far south of England, or at Ayr, north of Glasgow. Doesn’t life seem rosy! I must confess that I don’t like the news I have heard from the fellows here but, as I say, they are wireless mechanics and not operators. Still, there is no doubt that the tendency is to tighten up all round on the question of leave. For instance, had I joined up just a month earlier, I should have got a leave after being six weeks at Skegness. In the middle of January the rule was changed from six weeks to eight weeks. We had been at Skegness, as you know, nearly seven weeks when we moved, which would have meant a weekend next week or the week after had we stayed there. I rather think there must be a Jonah aboard! Anyway, the whole question will be solved tomorrow when we will get a chance of asking someone in authority and as soon as I know I’ll let you know.
Well, darling, I’m going to rush this away now for the post and I’m hoping to ring you up during the evening. I do hope the forebodings about leave are all wrong, but if they prove to be right we will just have to lump it and settle down to wait for the end of July to come round. What an awful distance that appears to be. July! And yet I seem to have been away so long now that I’m almost becoming inured to it. It seems a lifetime since I saw you last.
All my love, precious, and, even if it is a long time to leave, look after yourself because I shall want you more than ever then. Night night, sweetheart. I love you. Ever your own,
P.S. Will you send my pyjamas and some writing pads, please? I don’t think there is any need to address me as O/Tel here. I think you can make it “Mr”.