H. Gregson (Seaman), HMT Dalmatia, c/o GPO London
My Dear Stella,
This is your pen I’m using and believe me it behaves itself quite well… It has grown out of the awkward age – it has shed the mantle of adolescence. No longer is it a badly behaved infant, an undisciplined, “do as I please” child; now it has become my very good friend and I do not know how I should live without this small, black creature with the blue blood and the tongue of gold.
I know all his moods, but I must confess that I have little or no authority over this mighty prodigy.
Thus do I sit myself, fully intending to pen a sane, matter of fact letter to my sister. I have it all planned that I shall ask after her health, I shall send my love to her children, for they are often in my thoughts, and I shall ask to be remembered to Arthur. I shall make mention of a few of my experiences and I shall enquire about the Liverpool raids also. I shall tell the story about the new skipper… and so on and on ad infinitum…
But, once started, my pen takes command. There is a secret intimacy between my pen and some dark mysterious part of me which hardly exists at all. So if I write what appears to be a rather selfish letter, please don’t blame me.
Ours is a strange family. We are embarrassed by too much affection, too much “gush”. In our family a sister never says to a brother, or a brother to a sister, “How are you – I am glad to see you looking so well.” Or “Can I help you at all?” You see, we always take so much for granted. We are an honest family and that’s a great thing.
And we have the greatest mother in the world, haven’t we? The most unselfish lady in the universe. Yet, for a thousand pounds, I can’t imagine telling mother that she’s all that.
Here is thoughtfulness. I know damned well from letters received and from tales heard that the hometown is “getting it bad”, yet mother makes but little reference to the raids. She even says, thinking of my safety all the time, that it would be better if I didn’t come home just now if I got leave. I asked to be sent an ‘Echo’ or a ‘Post’ but mother won’t send one “because”, she says, “there is so little in the ‘Echo’ these days.”
I know the real reason. I would still love to see an ‘Echo’ again. Could you send me one, Stella? There is one other Liverpudlian on board, he too has asked for a local paper but, so far, nothing has materialized.
Incidentally, this other fellow is a real “Scouse”, a real “Eh, Wack, warreryousedoin’” lad. But it’s great to hear the accent – a little corner of Liverpool right here in the Channel. Yesterday he said “Eh, Greg, did yuh ever go ter the labour club in Wavertree Road?” I said that I had not. He continues “Oh, it’s de gear, that’s where I learnt the Rhumba.”
Other observations of his include the following – “Mossley Hill, eh? All Jews there aren’t thee?” “Brodie Avenue? Blimey, those people livin there spend all day on their backs.”
A good crew this. At least the lads. We really enjoy going into action now. That is, so long as there is only one plane to fire at. When it’s a big raid (I’ve been in two) – well, then it’s not so good. On that first raid on Portsmouth dockyard when dozens of Junkers dive-bombed on the ships and docks I nearly died of fright, but I’ve grown out of that feeling now, thank God.
This is an unsatisfactory, half started sort of letter. I hope you’ll forgive me. I’ll have to finish now if I wish to get this posted here.
Listen, let me know how things are all round, will you? How are Wendy and Michael? Is Arthur due for calling up yet? Tell him I think I can get some cig tobacco to him and ask him if he wants any shirts or hankies. The latter are a penny each and the shirts are only a couple of bob. I can buy socks also at a low price.
Let’s be hearing from you. And don’t worry about the noise – we’re a tough lot!
Lots of love to you and the family,
P.S. Any fresh literary triumphs?
What do you read these days? Have you read any Steinbeck novels? I myself have just started the Rachel Field ‘All This And Heaven Too’ classic and should soon have Steinbeck’s ‘Grapes Of Wrath’ (the picture is terrific.) I recently finished a very fine book – John Hilton’s ‘Knight Without Armour’. Listen. If you like, I’ll send on my copies from the World Book Club. I think you’ll like ‘All This And Heaven Too’.
I feel the urge to learn. Have you an old book of shorthand you don’t require? I’m going to have a go at learning shorthand – it can be most useful.