My Dearest Olive,
New Year 1944 has been spent in icy cold weather. We were suddenly snatched from our comparative comfort and I spent Dec 30th and New Year’s Eve sitting on top of a mountain in the midst of a heavy snowfall. I have never seen so much snow – in places, it was waist and chest deep and what with an icy wind as well, conditions were far from pleasant. It was certainly a marked contrast from the early days in N. Africa and Sicily. I was very glad I had brought the warm clothing such as your rolled top sweater with me.
I received your letter dated Dec 12th. It certainly cost a lot to move in but still just could not be avoided. A good job I have been promoted to Major – I only hope I am able to keep it. It is rather a curious feeling at first being a Field Officer. The first time the sentry gave me the ‘present’ salute instead of the ‘butt’ salute I half looked around to see who was following me. It means added responsibilities in some ways, but as you know I never minded that.
Just after Xmas we moved from the town in which we had been billeted to a village (San Angelo) perched on a hill. There were three companies in the village and we took over the billets of the vacating battalion. I was not at all satisfied with my existing billets and made strenuous efforts to improve them and find new ones. We also fixed up an excellent recreation room. The CO coming round with me a couple of days after we arrived said to me, ‘You always seem to be able to get very much better accommodation for your men than any other Company, Lawrie. I don’t know what it is’ I suppose it is age and experience and the determination to take extra trouble. Some of the others just seem to be content with that they are given’. I was very pleased with the ‘compliment’ especially in view of the fact that I am fighting to hang on to the Company against the threatened invasion of these senior officers – two of whom have already arrived in Dawson and (Capt Basil) Kentish. Dawson is commanding ‘A’ Coy and Kentish although commissioned in 1932 is 2 i/c to ‘D’ Coy. Some of these people would have gone to another battalion, but in view of what happened with us probably come here, worse luck.
I don’t think I told you that Denis Haywood has gone as an instructor to the Allied School of Infantry in N. Africa. A vacancy was offered to the battalion and it was offered to Denis as one who had been in action for some time and needed a break. He did not want to leave the battalion in many ways, but felt it was rather tempting fate to refuse. It is supposed to be of 3 months duration. I am very sorry to lose him, as he has been a very good friend to me, especially after John was killed when he showed very deep understanding. However he needed a change: he was definitely getting rather jittery and beginning to show it in small ways. The strain does tell on people after a while – fortunately I have not felt it yet.
Edward (Gibbon) is still my 2 i/c and doing very well and I have one other officer, (Lieut) Plymen, a South African who with a number of others has been transferred to the British Army. He fought in Abyssinia and the Desert and was wounded at El Alamein. He rose to be RSM before taking a commission about 18 months ago. He is 28, married with two little children, is very quiet but a very decent type. He always calls me ‘Sir’ which you will say pleases my vanity.
We are badly lacking in news scarcely hearing anything of what goes on. The fighting in Italy is still very slow. The Russians seem to have checked the threatened German Offensive and seem to be doing pretty well again and I gather we are still raiding Germany, especially Berlin. The changes in command are interesting and I should think that we will be doing something in the West. Let’s hope it will end soon. I would dearly love to be home with you again and see dear little Valerie making such splendid progress. She certainly appears to be in grand form and seems to be talking quite a lot. I am very glad you have got the house but hope you can manage to get out a reasonable amount.
All my love and kisses, darling wife.