From behind the front line in the area of the River Trigno
My Dearest Olive,
Have just received your letter dated 7/11. They seem to be coming much faster now, although I am still waiting on the letters sent to N. Africa to fill in the gaps regarding the earlier news. I was very relieved to know that Valerie is nearly better, as I was most anxious about her. I expect I would notice an enormous difference in her now. It will be a happy day when I see both of you again.
We are taking matters fairly quietly at the moment, doing a spot of re-organisation and light training under our new CO (Lt-Col Dunnill). He is a very good fellow indeed, who has been out here since the start of the N. African campaign and has been wounded three times. His ideas are very sound and sensible and everyone is very glad to have him here – after the disaster of a couple of weeks back, we were wondering who we would get in charge. We needed someone who understood the Bttn and knew what it has been through and we have the man. I cannot mention his name, but in any case it would not convey anything to you.
We are living at the moment in a very small farmhouse. The three of us occupy a small room – above us hangs from the ceiling, dry tobacco leaf and the rats run around in it at night time. Our sleep is disturbed by the continuous rustling. Everything is very muddy as we have had a lot of rain lately which is very much to the advantage of the Germans.
Denis (Haywood) and I have managed to get together a fair bit lately and have had several long talks. He feels very bitter against many things that I cannot very well mention. He is very much harder and more cynical – as he says, the ghastly wastage of life makes one wonder how much it is all worth. In his opinion, after a time, self preservation becomes the sole factor and one becomes utterly callous towards even the death of friends. He does not seem to adopt the view of some armchairs individuals that war ennobles the human character. Ingrid has managed to get together with another Norwegian girl and they are sharing a house in Westmorland and are quite comfortable. She sent her love to me and congratulations on my regaining my Captaincy and asked whether you had managed to get settled.
I read the following which is more or less word for word in a letter this morning “You remember our Platoon commander who I told you got killed recently. Our Captain thanked us for the way in which we fought with him yesterday. He was very nice and we all felt very sad and sorry for him because they were real mates and always knocking around together. In their spare time we never saw one without the other. The Captain has changed a lot since he came back from hospital – he is very quiet now and we know he misses him an awful lot. He told us we were to look on him as a real friend, because of what we had done”.
I had got the dozen survivors of John’s platoon yesterday and had this quiet little chat with them telling them that I deeply appreciated what they had done that night, as they knew he was my greatest friend and I thanked them for that reason.
There is a fashion here to refer to the fusilier as “the pig man”, or “the lowest form of life” Talking to the lads yesterday, I suddenly seemed to be outside myself and while I was talking I looked at those faces, listening very quietly, very intently and somehow each man seemed to have lifted out of the dull, brutal act of war and on their faces was expressed an emotion, a light seemed to shine, and in their thoughts, they somehow sub consciously paid tribute to a leader they had loved and respected. I feel as if the small group of us there in a ring, that John in dying, forged a link between these men and I, that because of him, come what may, there will always be a comradeship between us.
I wonder if you understand my feelings. You have never passed any comment up to the present on the various subjects I have discussed or on my friendship with John. I would like you to give an opinion on different things that I discuss, because your views are always very sane and I don’t know whether we are always sane out here. Discussing matters on paper is the one way we have now of keeping our minds active, don’t let us let them drift apart as so often occurred in the last war.
Give Valerie a great big kiss from her Daddy and a whole heap to my own dear little wife.
Your devoted husband