My Dearest Olive
This letter will have to be written in pencil as my fountain pen has run dry and I have no ink available. Received your letter dated 7/5 – it arrived very quickly. The Lieutenant Day you mentioned joined this battalion shortly after I did and was killed during the Sangro battle. How long is Jerry going to stay with you? I am glad that Phillip is coming shortly, and he should provide pleasant company. I had an airmail from Freda Revill the other day and a letter from Victor Mitchel who is still in N Africa. I understand Dudley Clark is in charge and is stationed in Naples, I had hoped to get down to see him but it is impossible at the moment.
The weather is now very hot and the roads are extremely dusty. Needless to say, they are in an extremely bad condition – the colossal amount of traffic and the lack of repair is absolutely ruining them. My Jeep has no windscreen and on a dusty road it is absolute misery, one gets covered from head to foot with thick white dust and in any long time line of traffic the vision is completely obscured.
It is rather difficult at the moment to know what to write about. The newspapers will give you a pretty good idea of what is going on and beyond that, for the present, there is really nothing I can say. A new officer was very shaky at first and that, of course, rather shook his platoon. We were heavily shelled on arriving in a certain position and while naturally everyone dived for cover, he threw himself flat and buried his face in the ground.
This shook his platoon considerably and a couple of them got shell shocked or “bomb happy” as we call it out here. I sat on the side of the ditch watching them come over, not that I want to occupy such a position, but it seemed the only thing to do to steady morale and best of all Frank Higgins who was in the middle of a shave at the time just calmly continued shaving – a pretty good show I thought.
I had a lot of trouble with that platoon that day. Four men went and deserted and it began to look as if the real rot was setting in. So I had a very straight talk…and got the whole company together and gave a real hard hitting talk “straight from the shoulder”. I spoke of the “white livered gutless skunks” who deserted their comrades, painted a very grim picture of what would happen to them, told them that my risk was far greater than theirs, that I would rather die and “know my wife and daughter could hold up their heads for the rest of their lives knowing I had done my job” rather than “live disgraced and bring shame and misery on my family”.
I spoke quietly but put every ounce of force I possessed into what I was saying and delivered at such a time and place it had a very big effect – some of the NCOs told me afterwards it was just what was needed and morale went up enormously and, since then, they have been quite happy and cheerful.
Fellowes told me the men were talking a lot about it afterwards and it went down very well with them. It is terribly easy for the rot to set in, and a few men can affect the whole Company under such conditions. Denis Hayward had a bad experience with his company during the Trigno spell and unfortunately was not able to check it. Well, I have jumped on it good and hard and I think things are quite all right. Certainly I worked hard enough going around talking with the men, telling them the latest news and endeavouring in every way possible to keep up the spirits and it seemed to have succeeded. Frank told me that a man in his platoon said, “The Major is just the same as us – I bet he feels afraid at times but you never see him show it”. We are still waiting anxiously to hear that the second front has started. Most people out here feel it is rather overdue and it is high time we had some strain removed. The news that it is has commenced will certainly be the biggest morale lifter that we could receive.
I expect you are having some nice weather now. I am looking forward to having news of Sylvia and her progress. I wonder how Sadi will react, Valerie will certainly be very interested. I am now wearing the 1939-43 Star. Just serving in Italy alone in the normal way does not entitle one to it, but having been wounded completes the necessary qualification. Of course it does not mean matter out here but it will be nice to have when I return home. I am feeling very well and so far managed quite a good deal of sleep. I wrote to Susan some time ago but never had a reply from her.
All my love and kisses darling wife, to you and Valerie.
Your ever devoted husband.