My dear Jane and Jack,
I’m tempting fate. We have not had an air raid so far tonight and it is now midnight, so I’m taking a chance on at least getting this letter well under way. If there are any interruptions, you will have to forgive me if the letter seems a little disjointed. Actually we have been very lucky so far in Liverpool. There have been “alerts” – dozens of ’em. In fact we consider ourselves lucky if we only get one air raid warning during daylight hours and two at night. For all that, there has been very little material damage done and, considering the number of bombs dropped, the number of planes he must have had engaged in visits to Liverpool, and the amount of money and time he must have spent on our “Education” in Nazi methods, the number of lives lost is remarkably small. It all seems in the lap of the gods. If he hits a public surface shelter and it is crowded, then the casualties are high. If, as has happened on a few occasions, he hits a shelter which is empty, then we have a good night. I don’t know whether you ever listen to, or see in the papers, the German communiqués about the damage which has been done in different parts of the country. If you do, then take it from me that, at least so far as Liverpool is concerned, and probably so far as the whole of the country is concerned, he talks a lot of poppy-cock. He has said on several occasions that the harbour of Liverpool has been burned to the ground. He is crazy. On two occasions only – one of them was last Saturday – has he caused fires of any size at all. One of them destroyed only one building, the old Customs House, and the other day (which was this weekend) was his best day ever here and then he only got four decent fires going. Really it is a poor effort considering the number of planes he has had here. These are two of the very few days when he has been able to reach dockland, and although this weekend things looked pretty good for him, when it is all boiled down it means this – he hit a timber yard, a cotton warehouse and a general warehouse in Bootle. To do that he probably dropped the best part of a thousand incendiaries over the north end. Not very good shooting, is it?
We have had a bit of stuff round us. In all I should say about a dozen or fifteen high explosive bombs within half a mile. It may be more than that, but we have felt very little, except on one occasion when I was at home and, in full innocence, opened the front door during what I thought was a quiet spell. Just then he dropped a couple in some fields which are two or three roads away from us and we felt the full benefit of the blast. That is as near as he has got to us yet and we are not over-worried about it. My experience is that, even if you have no real shelter, you are safe enough if you stay in the house. To do any damage to you he has to drop one right on your doorstep, or at least within a couple of houses. Even then you are not likely to be hurt, but you may be shaken up. So far as I can see, there has got to be a more or less direct hit on a house before any really serious damage is done to the occupants. Property and furniture may be knocked about, but what does that matter as compared with life?
I’m writing all this, not for the sake of scaring you, but because I feel you should know what we think of it, and to write and tell you that nothing has happened here would be an insult to your intelligence. I will tell you quite frankly that apart from one occasion when a “Molotov breadbasket”, which is one of those arrangements in which he releases a big number of incendiary bombs at once, burst over my head soon after I had left the house to go to the office, I have not been really scared. Yet, on the other hand, once it is nearly time to leave for the office, which is, just now, the time at which he is likely to come over, I get all worked up and cannot settle in the house. Once I am outside and on my way down I feel much better, even if the sirens go and I have to walk part of the way during the raid. I think it must be a sort of claustrophobia complex I have as zero hour approaches. I’m all right once I’m on the move. Stella, on the other hand, heaves a sigh of relief when the sirens go and she has to go up and fetch the kids downstairs. Then she settles down into the routine of keeping an eye on them while reading or knitting.
Monday 21 October 1940
As you will see, it is quite a long time since I started this letter. In fact the night I did so he came over very late and interrupted me, which I took most unkindly. In fact we have had a number of lively nights since then. Only a couple of nights after I had written the first page of this letter, Jerry touched lucky with a whole load of incendiaries and treated us to the greatest fire I have ever seen – or expect to see. He went right along the south end docks and planted fire bombs in dozens of places. In all we had about seven or eight huge ones all going at the one time and from our roof it looked as if half of Liverpool was on fire, but actually the damage, although considerable from a financial point of view, was nothing like as great as was at first feared. The chief thing is that he was not able to affect transport at all, except passenger transport to a small extent, and once again the docks escaped serious damage. The more I go about and see the damage he has done, the more I marvel at how small it is. To back up what I said on the other page about the number of lives lost and injuries inflicted, I’ll quote what happened on two successive nights – or mornings. On the first occasion he dropped a line of high explosive among house property which, incidentally has suffered by far the most in these raids. The first bomb hit a house which had already had a time bomb in the yard in a previous raid, and consequently there was no-one in it. The second and third bombs dropped in the yards of houses in a street opposite. The fourth scored a direct hit on a small surface shelter, demolishing that one and damaging an adjoining one. The fifth dropped in the middle of the road. The only casualties were those in the two shelters. In all, about thirty killed and injured. This despite the fact that there were at least two planes which dropped a full load of H.E. and incendiary. The next night he came over and dropped even more. They all fell either in gardens, sports fields, the grounds of hospitals and places like that and there were two very slight injuries, one of them a soldier who slightly burned his hands in dealing with an incendiary. It’s like a raffle. Sometimes he is lucky, but most often we are.
You will be interested to know that the work I have put in on these air raids, sometimes working a fifteen and sixteen hour day, has made a very good impression on the office. So much so that, although I did not apply for one, I have been given a rise. In fact I am the only one in the office to receive an increase since the war began, and it is not likely that there will be any more for a long time. The news editor of the ‘Daily Post’ and the editor of the ‘Echo’ – whom I have seen about twice in my life – were so pleased with what I have been doing that each of them went on successive days, and quite unkown to each other, and told the managing director that I should be given some recognition. Result – a rise. It is very welcome just now for many reasons, not the least of which is that I will now be able to resume giving something to Mother, in which direction I have been rather lax of late, but things are so tight – or rather were, until I had this stroke of good luck. I would rather it had come through some other medium than other people’s misery, but the position being what it is, I might as well turn it to good use if I can. Anyway, it will probably mean that I shall be put on to day work as soon as possible, although I don’t think that is likely to be for some time yet, because of the difficulty in getting new staff. We cannot compete these days with the national papers who are offering excellent wages to people who are likely to be out of the army for some time to come. On the whole, I prefer night work just now from a purely selfish point of view, because I can get my sleep in as usual during the day and, at night, there is generally at least one good story to be done, which is an improvement in sitting twiddling my thumbs as I have been doing for months. I’m almost a war correspondent now, complete with steel helmet, which Stella and the family think makes me look funnier than ever. Daddy’s hat is a standing joke in the house.
Sunday 3 November
Still another effort to get this into the post and I’m determined to finish it tonight. So far I have written of nothing but the war but now, with November upon us, I had better make this a Xmas letter! It seems as if we have gone back to the ice age, writing Xmas letters two months ahead of time. Despite war conditions, there are signs of the festive season being on its way. Already Woolworth’s and other stores are displaying some purely Xmas lines. I don’t know whether we will be able to get hold of a Xmas tree this year. Usually Bert gets us one from the Burton woods, as I have told you before, I think, but as he is not at Burton now, the chances do not seem so good. I would like to get one if I can, because we are ging to do everything we can to make it as normal a Xmas as possible. Stella has already made the puddings and the next job will be the cake. Even if we cannot buy any fresh ones, we still have a few crackers left from last year and these, together with the coloured paper garlands, will help to make the atmosphere something like normal. I have bought some decorations such as Santa Clause on a sleigh and that sort of thing because they may be scarce later on, and we are gradually accumulating a stock of small novelties for the stockings. I have even got some new pennies so I think that, whatever happens this year, the youngsters should have a decent day, which is the main thing. It is impossible to tell what will happen in the way of visitors, of course, but I have no doubt things will be sorted out at the last minute, as usual. Presents for the adults will be kept down to microscopic proportions, I expect. I don’t know what to make for Wendy. Last year I made her a doll’s cot and she is just a bit too young for a doll’s house yet, and so is Michael, who would probably break it in the first day if I did make one for her. It is impossible to stop them from playing with each other’s toys. Before the time comes, however, I shall probably have a brain wave. Michael has already made up his mind that he wants a train – a big wooden one which he can pull along, so I’ll have to start that very soon. I suppose it will have to be painted the traditional red. It won’t be long now before he is demanding the real thing like Hornby trains, or Meccano.
As you will see from the date, we are not far off Bonfire Night, but of course a real bonfire or out of doors fireworks are out of the question this year. We are having a few indoor ones and I expect a few of the youngsters from round about will come in to see the fun. We tried one or two of them out the other day and they were a great success. I was not as strong minded as Stella, who religiously kept her hands off them, although she actually bought them in South Road. As soon as I saw them, I had to try some of them! What’s the good of being the boss(?) of the house if you can’t do things like that? I’m quite looking forward to the time when we can have a real Bonfire Night out of doors. It’s like going to the grotto, the children are a great excuse.
I don’t know what the arrangements will be in town about grottos this year. Last year, so far as I can remember, only Lewis’s had a real grotto, the remainder of the stores having only a toy fair. It will probably be the same this year, but whatever happens, we will take them both into town some morning – Stella will probably meet me in town straight from the office, where I can have a sleep and some breakfast before I meet her. If we do that, we should be home again about lunchtime and then I can have a sleep in the afternoon if necessary. The children like the trip to town and Wendy, like a true woman, will probably insist on a glass of milk in a café. She has reached that stage already.
Today I lifted the last of my potatoes. I put in quite a lot of work on the alleged allotment at the back of the garden last year, but the results were disappointing, probably due to two reasons – lack of manure and slackness in not keeping weeds and pests down. Everything seems to have come so far and no further. Sprouts, for instance, have come to a small ball, about an inch across, but seem to have stopped growing altogether at that point. The same thing happened with beetroots. Some of them reached the size of a tennis ball, but some of them never exceeded a marble. Cauliflowers were promising well and suddenly bolted, growing about a foot in a couple of days. Dwarf beans were severely attacked by fly, two rows failing to yield a single bean, and the cabbage fly, which was a new pest to me, did a lot of havoc with my greens during the summer. Still, we have had a few meals off our own stuff and I have learned a lot, which I hope will be useful next year. Considering everything, the potatoes did well, for they had no feeding of any kind, and one cannot expect too much in those circumstances. In all I suppose we will have had about six or seven months’ supply by the time the last are eaten, for with these I have lifted today we should have about two or three months’ supply in hand now. Bert sent me quite a good stock of winter greens which are doing better than the others, and which I hope will just be right when the shop supplies are running low. That was the chief difficulty last year, that we were unable to get any fresh greens for two or three months during the winter.
Well, I must finish on this page so it’s time to say au revoir. We shall be thinking of you both as usual at Xmas, and particularly when we are eating the turkey, or whatever takes its place. In the meantime, we all send you our love and best wishes for Xmas and 1941. We hope, too, that next year will see the end of all this nonsense and that you will be able to get home for a few months’ leave. Bye for now, and see you both take care of yourselves.
P.S. I’m almost certain Stella has already acknowledged them, but just in case – many thanks for the frocks for Wendy. They fit her beautifully. Not one has had to be altered. Everything you mentioned in your letters as being on the way has now arrived. Yes, your cable came and was duly passed round all the family or else they were told its exact text.