Letter from John Valentine to his wife Ursula



Letter from John Valentine to his wife Ursula


Thanks her for letter and cake. Says he is unhappy particularly over rainy weather and polishing boots. Writes of church parade and offending the padre with swearing. Continues with recounting visit to local ladies for afternoon tea. Continues writing about the camp, fellow trainees, activities, duties, going to cinema, better weather and the book he is reading. Asks about activities and acquaintances at home.



Temporal Coverage



Six page handwritten letter


IBCC Digital Archive


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Squad 25 Hut 40
E. Flight
2 Squadron. 2 Wing
R.A.F. Station
Wed. 6-11-40
My Dearest Ursula
Your letter last Saturday was so welcome that I have been eagerly looking forward to hearing from you again. Yesterday your parcel arrived safely and most acceptable it was too. Thank you very much, my darling, you have no idea how I love getting something from you. Please do write as often as you can – it is such a real comfort to me to know that I have your love & to hear that you are well & what you are doing with yourself. The cake is excellent – how glad I am that you sent it & I am afraid that the cost of postage was a bit high – 10d. It is going to be quite a problem if we are to send much one to another. To cut down the amount to be posted I think I will try to wash all my socks except those that require darning. Will you give me a few hints as to what to do, & if you could let me have the appropriate soap or flakes I would be grateful. Another thing that I would like is a small pocket dictionary. In my letter from Uxbridge I made one bad spelling mistake that I know of apart from the probably many that I didnt [sic] spot. The word I am thinking of is hypocrisy which I spelt with an “o” and not an “i”.
I might as well confess that I am very unhappy here. I miss you & long for you terribly. The chief trouble is the weather. It has now rained almost uninterruptedly for a solid week. It has been real rain too with no half measures about it. In these wooden huts everything is damp & as we are allowed the fire for only a few hours a day nothing gets a chance of drying. Because of the weather, a lot of our outside drills are cancelled & we have to spend the time in partially wet clothes shivering in the unheated room waiting for something to happen. Another annoying thing is the way we have to use our boots. As you know, we have two pairs & I started by wearing them on alternate days. Here however we have to keep one pair in reserve for our passing out parade. We have to polish this
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pair ad infinitum so as to have a surface like patent leather at the end of our month. The result is that we are unable to use this pair, wheras [sic] our everyday pair was thoroughly soaked long ago & gets no chance of drying. A lot of fellows have bad colds but I am more fortunate. Apart from a slight soreness off the throat each morning & loss of sense of taste I feel little the worse for the life. I am sorry to paint such a gloomy picture but I am just thoroughly depressed – a letter from you would alter everything – it is nearly a week since the last came – but it feels like a year.
I wrote to you last on Saturday. On Sun I had to act as sideman at the Church parade, take the collection, count it & then put 1000 chairs away – with one or two others. We had to count the cash in the Vestry & I forgot where I was & that the Padre was standing behind us & I swore violently on two occasions when I upset a pile of pennies. I regret to say that I used the word that astonished you when I was mending a puncture on our cycle tour at Easter. However he said nothing but I had an anxious & penitent moment after each outburst. When we started on the putting away of the chairs, most of the helpers silently stole away & eventually only three (myself included) remained. When the job was over we too thought it was time to disappear but had got only a few yards before we were called back by the Padre. Reluctantly we obeyed thinking that there was more work to be done. However, he gave us instead a copy of the Gospel according to St. John & an invitation to tea that afternoon from some ladies in Bridgenorth. Apparently these good folk had compiled a list of ladies each of whom expressed her willingness to entertain two airmen to tea on Sunday afternoons. I took the Canadian Grant with me to the address that the Padre gave me. Our hostess was a very very [sic] sprightly widow of 86. Beleive [sic] me she looked no more than 70 & she had a companion of about 50. They were exceedingly hospitable & gave us an enormous tea of white & brown bread & butter, jam and cake. It was a delightful change to get into a decent warm room & to feel like gentlemen. The dear old soul had even bought a packet of cigarettes for us to smoke & after tea the companion played & sang to us. She asked us first if we could do either but we shyly said that we couldn’t. Her effort was appaling. [sic] She only played about 1 note in a dozen & that merely for the purpose of correcting her voice. However, we managed to preserve straight faces & to express polite appreciation of her efforts. When [deleted] that [/deleted] her repetoire [sic] was exhausted – she had about 3 songs only the old lady entertained us with stories & anecdotes about
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[underlined] 2 [/underlined]
Bridgenorth & its history & showed us some rather interesting & very old etchings & books about the antiquities of the town. She is a widow of an architect & an educated woman and altogether a charming soul, extremely anxious to please us. We left with expressions of regret on both sides & cordial invitations from our hostess to come again.
I am writing this cold & wet as usual having come in from parade on account of the weather. It is too bloody cold to sit still any longer so I shall stop for a bit & return to the attack later when the old circulation starts again.
Cheerio my love xx.
[underlined] After lunch – Wednesday [/underlined]
I am now in a very chastined [sic] mood. When I finished writing above I started polishing my ceremonial boots in an effort to get warm but that didn’t prove very successful. Dinner is at 12.15 & at about 10 mins. to 12 I thought I would have a bath. I had a gorgeously hot soaker & feeling much better for it arrived back at the hut just as the last man left it for dinner. Knowing that if I went in then I would have to wait at least 10 minutes before being served I stayed in the hut for that time cutting my moustache & brushing my boots again and then went over for the meal. I had no sooner got into the canteen than a voice from the centre of the room roared “Come here – you.” It was that hell cat of a warrant officer. He asked me why I was late & when I told him he just about exploded, using every swear word know [sic] to me he told me [deleted] j [/deleted] exactly what he thought of me, then he took my name & number and has promised to find a really dirty fatigue duty for the week end. That means that I shan’t get out of the camp & will probably be peeling potatos [sic] all Saturday & Sunday.
As it is I haven’t been allowed out of the camp since last Sunday because I have been on Fire Picket all the week. All that that means is that one has to parade at 7.45 am & 5.45 pm for inspection & [deleted] bet [/deleted] for the rest of the day one does ones duty as usual & is free in the evenings to do anything within the camp boundaries. When the camp warning goes the members of the fire picket have to report at appointed centres. It is no bother in the ordinary way except that I can’t leave camp but it carries with it the liability to be hauled out of bed in the middle of the night.
I am now awaiting with considerable trepidation the fatigue that awaits me for the weekend – blast everything
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Last night I went to the Camp Cinema. It is a tiny little building – wooden – with a corrugated iron roof & I beleive [sic] that when it rains [inserted] hard [/inserted] the pattering on the roof drowns the sound of the voices. It was raining gently but steadily last night so it didn’t interfere with [deleted] [indecipherable word] [/deleted] hearing. The film showing was Gunga Din & I enjoyed it quite a lot. The projection was poor at times and occasionally they cut bits out to shorten the film, the programme being restricted to two hours. The cinema shows four different films a week. One on Sunday & then a different one on Monday & Tuesday, Change again for Wed & Thur, Change again Fri & Sat. At the end of the week, “Love from a Stranger” is to be on. I shall try to see it if I can.
Yesterday was the best day we have had. Rain was intermittent & each shower did not last for long so that we got quite a lot of drill and a little P.T. All other days the rain has been so persistent that we have had long spells of waiting in our huts.
Many thanks for “Guilty Men.” I shall read it as soon as I can and return it. I am progressing slowly with Anna but hope to finish it soon and return it to you. I don’t think that the second half of the book is as good as the first – it is much slower & contains a great deal of rather unnecessary detail. I – Interval XXX
Since writing the last paragraph I have read a bit more of “Anna” & am now very near the end. It is get [sic] a little more vivid now although rather sad. It is now Wednesday evening & with the hut fire alight the temperature is more bearable although there is a considerable amount of noise because as most of the fellows are on fire picket too, they are confined to camp like me.
My general impression of the camp, apart from the cold & wet, is a good one. The food is really good & quite hot when we get it. We are given enormous quantities to eat but my appetite is now considerable with the result that I never feel satisfied. The discipline is very severe especially in our wing chiefly because of the vigilant hell cat Warrant Officer Jones. I am still smarting under the punishment to be imposed on me at the week end for having a bath instead of queuing up for lunch. So think of me during those two days and send me your love
So far, this letter has been written entirely in the first person. Please forgive me & tell me frankly if you dont [sic] want me to prattle about myself. I am always thinking of you – that is not an overstatement but an absolute fact.
During one of our long waits today while it was pouring with rain, some of the chaps at my end of the room start discussing sex in a most filthy fashion. I was so sickened that I took out “Anna” & started reading it in an obvious manner. I noticed that one or two of them
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saw me & later on when there was a spark of genuine humour from the other end of the hut someone said “Look – old frosty face is laughing.”
There are two main types of fellow in the hut. One section, my end unfortunately, is the most disgusting and the conversation at times is loathsome. The other consists of a number of boys of the very masculine type. Much cleaner in appearance and in mind they glory in displaying their physical prowess by repeated wrestling matches & gymnastics exercises. At the far end of the hut are those whose company would be most congenial. They are quieter & more serious than any [deleted] oth [/deleted] of the others but being on the whole more reserved they tend to go about singly instead of forming small groups as the others do.
I wrote to my parents a week ago & stupidly told them not to send me anything. If by chance you should see or speak to any of the family you might drop a hint that my appetite has improved & that my financial position has considerably worsened. That is a very serious problem for although my needs are simple my income is so minute that I haven’t yet succeeded in living within it. Nominally I should be paid 1/6 a day but it is going to be 5 or 6 weeks before I start getting it. By the next payday – Thurs. week I shall have been 4 weeks in the service & shall have received £1 – 5/- a week. There is a small but constant expense on cleaning material, the additional luxury items being usually:
a cup of tea & a bun at 10 am same after dinner & same or cocoa at night – 10 woodbines daily – I can’t afford tobacco & a flick or camp concert occasionaly [sic] – actually I have been only once. Fortunately most of the chaps are temperate so that I haven’t lost any cash by abstaining from alcohol. Nevertheless I am not exactly in the money & if you care to drop delicate hints if you should ever speak to Mother please do so. Don’t send me any of your money yet. If you can afford to buy & post [deleted] [indecipherable word] [/deleted] the things for which I ask you, you will be releiving [sic] or relatively considerable burdens.
We went for a dental inspection yesterday. I was one of four out of the 30 who did not require any treatment. The others started their treatment today and you can take it form me that the thing is being properly done. There is no butchery today – each man gets treated just as sympathetically as he would if he were being attended by his own private dentist. They are even scaling teeth where necessary. Mine didn’t even require that.
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Now let me stop blethering about myself & ask you a few questions. Have you had a week of almost solid rain? How is the shelter standing up to it? How is Barbara? What is the exact date of her birthday? Had you really forgotten the date of our engagement? Are my people bothering you at all? What are the raids on London like nowadays? Has there been much dropped near you lately? Have you used the shelter much? Are all its services still satisfactory e.g. heat & light? Are you keeping the rugs in the shelter free from damp? How is the gardiner [sic] getting on? What is the allotment looking like? How are the vegetables coming on? How are you keeping? Are you looking as lovely as ever? Do you long for me as much as I for you? How is your dressmaking progressing? I don’t want to be rude, but is your figure altering much? Are you taking proper care of yourself? Drinking 1 pint of milk a day? As much bullie as you can? Are you not overworking yourself? When does Mrs Mickley leave? Have you got as substitute? What are her working hours to be? And her pay? Can you read this awful c[inserted]r[/inserted]amped scrawl of mine? Have you heard from your Mother recently? Has she any [deleted] good [/deleted] news? [deleted] Can you [/deleted] Has the R.A.F. pay started working properly for you yet? A multitude of other details from you and about you would be greatly appreciated. A letter from you is like a half-holiday. If I don’t hear from you I begin wondering if anything has happened to you.
I probably won’t write again before the week end & then only if my penal fatigue doesn’t take up too much time. I have still four or five duty letters to get off my chest & if I wait much longer they will never be done.
We get another inoculation on Friday – 3 times as powerful as the one at Uxbridge but they tell us that it doesn’t hurt any more because our system is [inserted] now [/inserted] more used to such shocks. Next week we go through a gas chamber & start our musketry practice.
Just a few more lines & I must stop. I hope you dont [sic] mind my constant repetition of my longing for you. I am always conjuring up visions of our next meeting & longing eagerly, oh so eagerly for it. It was awful to hear of the Prime Ministers remarks about the years 1943 and 1944. How I wish I had faith in prayer.
All my love darling



John Ross Mckenzie Valentine, “Letter from John Valentine to his wife Ursula,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 27, 2022, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/19092.

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