Letter from John Valentine to his wife Ursula



Letter from John Valentine to his wife Ursula


Writes describing last day at Bridgnorth and difficult journey to Grantham. Mentions poor food and difficulty finding accommodation on arrival. Describes activities and frustration about no news of future. Accommodation now in married quarters, describes day and companions. Says camp is flying training school and they were to guard it. Describes farce of passing out parade at Bridgnorth. Continues with banter and complains about the RAF being in muddle with no one knowing what to do with them. Goes on to describe daily activity including going into Grantham to look for hotels. States it is interesting as there are aircraft about.



Temporal Coverage



Eight page handwritten letter


This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.





Start of transcription
[inserted] Now permanent [deleted] [underlined] Only Temporary [/underlined] Don’t reply to it [/deleted] [/inserted]
[brackets] 1251404 AC 2 Valentine John
MQ 44
12 F.T.S.
R.A.F. Station
Grantham, Lincs.
Sat, 30-11-40 [/brackets]
Dearest Ursula.
I am afraid this will be but a very brief not to let you know my address.
[underlined] 1 [/underlined].
I had no sooner written the first two lines than a Sergeant popped in his head to say that we are not allowed out of camp until further notice, possibly tomorrow, so that I might be able to write a longer letter but you may not receive it so soon.
Our unanimous opinion of the R.A.F is just at rock bottom now. The waste of time is positively incredible while there appears to be no cohesion whatsoever in the activities of various departments.
As I hinted in my last letter, we commenced our last morning at Bridgenorth [inserted] by rising [/inserted] at 4 am with breakfast at 4.30. We were then given rations and paraded, many hundreds of us, in the large gym at 5.15. There we were herded into sleepy groups according to our respective destinations and led outside [deleted] f [/deleted] to form a long column of men. Luckily large lorries were in attendance to relieve us of our kit bags and after depositing these we stood awaiting developments for nearly an hour. It was a bitterly cold morning, with a thick deposit of frost and ice on all puddles and streams which abound in Bridgenorth camp. Then we moved off for the station where another wait ensued before we boarded a special train for Birmingham. Arrived there, we changed stations now carrying our kit and forming a disgustingly ragged column while we marched through the main streets of the city. London has little to show Birmingham in the way of bomb damage for we saw a great many nasty looking wrecks during our march. Having reached the station we had another agonising wait, crowded in hundreds on one of the smaller platforms. We managed, despite dire threats from our N.C.Os to buy a cup of tea at one of the refreshment rooms which partially restored the circulation and temper. They did not want us to leave the platform for fear that our next train, already much overdue, should leave during our absences
[page break]
However, it did at last come, and we literally had to farm ourselves into the very limited room at the disposal of the R.A.F. I was unfortunately unable to get away from the door of one of the Pullman type of carriages and, there being no heating on, became exceedingly cold during our journey through Derby to Nottingham. At the latter station we had to change stations again and as before we must have presented a sorry picture straggling through the main streets of the city (holding up all the traffic) burdened with our kit bags and forming an uneven column of men none of whom was in step with any other. At the new station, too, we had a wait of over an hour until the train [deleted] from [/deleted] for Grantham picked us up and deposited us [deleted] at [/deleted] there at 4.30. Again we waited while an R-A-F van came down for us but shortly after 5 pm as dusk was falling we reached this camp. It was a perfect evening, clear as a bell, while the sun set with a gorgeous display of crimson What time we waited and shivered, for it was [deleted] [indecipherable word] [/deleted] really cold, until we were lead off for a meal. It was now 6 pm. and apart from our rations given us at [deleted] Birmingham [/deleted] Bridgnorth, we had eaten nothing since 4.30 am. Nevertheless our meal consisted of a thin slice of cold [indecipherable word] sausage & some bread and jam – nothing to drink. When we had swallowed this snack out into the cold again we went and by now it was pitch dark. However waiting meant nothing to us now so we managed to endure another hour and a half in the hope that at least someone knew of us And even thought that we might like a bed for the night. Eventually someone did come along and his solution of the problem was to comb the camp in search of a bed belonging to someone on leave and to deposit one of us there for the night. I landed in a barrack tenanted by cooks & butchers and I slept in the bed and sheets of a butcher on leave. He must have been a tough customer for he had only three blankets and I spent a very uneasy night trying to forget the cold and doing my best to snatch an hour or two of sleep.
This morning was gorgeous but cold. There was a very severe frost last night and [deleted] there was [/deleted] any amount of ice was knocking about in the early part of today when we resumed our waiting. After breakfast we trooped over to the Medical Dept where after 90 minutes wait we had an F.F.I. & then began the longest hold up since our arrival here. We had fondly imagined that someone would know that we had come and would be deputed to house us, provide us with blankets sheets and toilet paper, [deleted] and [/deleted] tell us of our duties, times of meals the hours we would work and answer any questions we might like to ask. Yes we imagined all that but what
[page break]
[circled 2]
did we get? Nothing! Absolutely nothing. After the F.F.I. we asked an N.C.O. at the Medical Dept. what was the next step. He said he hadn’t the slightest idea, but suggested that we went to the Camp Warrant Officer. This we did and found our irritable Flight Sergeant to whom we addressed ourselves. His irritability was matched only by his lack of interest in our plight but he did condescend to say “Get into ranks of three and wait.” This was precisely what we had been doing for days but nevertheless we obeyed. After some time a clerk opened a window from a nearby room & took down our names, numbers etc and while each of us in turn went up to the window to give this information gusts of lovely warm air issued therefrom into our cold and pinched faces. When this operation was concluded the window was shut and we went on waiting. In time a Sergeant came out and called the names of 8 of us (not mine) who formed into a separate little squad. The Sergeant then disappeared & both squads of us started waiting again. Then another Sergeant came out and said “You spent last night in the married quarters didn’t you” We said “no” and after goggling at us in a rather nonplussed fashion he shook his head in disgust and took himself off. We, of course, went on waiting. After half an hour more had elapsed he reappeared, put the same question, got the same answer, again looked as if he didn’t believe us and again disappeared. Still we waited feeling very, very chilly especially about the feet. Finally out he came once more and bid the remainder of the original group to follow him, leaving behind those eight whose names had first been called. We were led to the nearest of the Married Quarters, [deleted] now [/deleted] rows of little immature brick built maisonettes. M.Qs aren’t used for their proper purpose in war times but they are still building them here. We were ushered into one only just finished, in fact it has been slept in but one night. There was no coal or central heating and no electric light. H & C water is laid on but the H function only if coal is available. Having [deleted] been [/deleted] parked us, our guide made himself scarce while we were left without any further instructions about what we were to do and when or what not to do and when not to do it It was by now, of course, lunch time and we had spent the whole morning idle & neglected standing in the open air stamping our frozen feet and swearing violently, so we hastened to the canteen for some corpse reviver in the form of cooked food. After dinner, we returned to our billets to see what could be done about heating them. I told you that they were newly built and there were others still in course of construction so that there was plenty of builders material lying about in the form of planks and wooden posts. We had no axe, of course
[page break]
but we managed to scrounge quite a considerable stack of wood of all shapes and sizes and somehow we were able to break it into a size more or less useful for the purposes of a fire.
The rooms in these quarters are small. The one in which I have been placed accomodating [sic] only three but I have got the two nicest of the whole bunch of fellows as my room mates so that if we three can stick together when we are moved I shall be perfectly content with my companions. One of them is the farmer, Bowack by name and an exceptionally pleasant fellow, quiet conscientious and sensible with quite a cheery personality. The other, Thompson by name is also of a quiet and rather gentle disposition. Bowack is married, seems to have plenty of money and is followed (sometimes preceeded) everywhere by his wife in their car.
During the afternoon, a Sergeant looked in to tell us that these quarters are only temporary & that we have to parade at 8 am tomorrow, Sunday. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that we may then be told something of the work in store for us and of the [deleted] times [/deleted] hours which we shall have to work. This Sergeant also left hurricane lamps because, as the billets are not blacked out, it is impossible to use anything but candles or hurricane lamps. It is by the light of this lamp that I am now penning this.
At half past three I went for tea after which all the fellows pushed off for the town while I stayed behind to look after our fire and to write to my little wife. After a while Bowack came in because he had been posted for guard duty from 5 pm to 7 am. This gave us some idea of the jobs in store for us. He went into the canteen for tea and I joined him thus having the whole meal twice over. I was dreadfully afraid lest someone should recognise me as having been served once already. It is a very serious crime in the R.A.F to appear twice for the same meal but it worked for me this time and I came out of the cook house after the second effort feeling positively bloated.
By this time my circulation had been [deleted] fe [/deleted] completely restored so that I was able to take up my pen again in a far more agreeable frame of mind. I started this letter about 2.30 and it is now 7.15. I have had literally scores and scores of interruptions so please forgive me if I jump from one thing to another. Another disadvantage is the extremely poor light provided by a meagre hurricane lamp. I have to suspend it within a foot of the paper to be able to see [deleted] over the [/deleted] anything at all.
This camp, so far as I can gather is only a Flying Training School (F.T.S.) and we are here to guard it. The meals are worked differently from Bridgnorth where we had to queue until
[page break]
[circled 3]
the appointed hour when all joined in one mad, frantic and glorious rush to be served first. Here, breakfast is from 6.30 to 8.30, lunch 11.30 to 1.30 & tea 3.30 to 5.30 and the men come in when they are free. It was thus that I was able to have tea twice over. The canteen isn’t as good as Bridgnorth but the food seems reasonably good and I think that I shall be satisfied with it. If we are to be on guard at all hours of the day and night I shall have to toughen myself considerably for I have caught another cold as a result of the many hours of waiting during the last few days.
Our passing out parade at Bridgnorth was a complete farce, there must have been 500 men on it with the result that the stock of rifles was inadequate and much to our releif [sic] we went on to the parade without arms. We were lined up on the square before the Commanding Officer of the Camp arrived. He was new to the Camp and our N.C.O.’s had been very worried about the extent of his examination. All he did was to march at breakneck speed up and down our ranks followed by a cortege of breathless junior officers and N.C.O.’s. He hardly seemed to look at us at all and when he had finished he took his stand on a small beflagged dais to take the salute. This meant our marching past him with eyes to the right and left on our return journey but I am sorry to say that the marching was atrocious, there being about 20 different steps in each column of men instead of one. However we “passed out” and after it bitterly regretted the hours spent on our ceremonial boots at which he hardly cast a glance. After duty on Thursday, I broke my confinement to camp by going to Bridgnorth to send you my parcel and to call on the aged widow to thank her for entertaining us to tea on two occasions, returned early to camp cleaned my boots etc & retired early because of the [deleted] early [/deleted] imminent rise at 4 am.
I can’t think of anything else to tell you dearest, but I won’t post this letter until tomorrow afternoon in case anything else happens. I hope you don’t get bored by these recitals of mine – please, please tell me if you do. Oh yes, there is one silly thing to tell you. One of our fellows has got 5 days leave. Yes five days and what for – to go home for his trumpet [underlined] and [/underlined] he was given a railway warrant too. While we were waiting as usual this morning an officer passed. Seeing us he said “Are you new arrivals” Receiving an affirmative answer he then enquired if any of us [inserted] had [/inserted] played in a dance orchestra in civil life. This particular fellow said that he was a trumpeter so the officer said he could go home for his instrument if he wished and enquired if 48 hours was enough. The chap had the sense to say that, although he lived only at Richmond, travel through London was very difficult
[page break]
nowadays. Whereupon the officer gave him 5 days leave. Can you Bloody well beleive [sic] it? Five days leave for a trumpet while I with a nice wife, five months gone can’t get anything.
That’s all now dearest – will resume tomorrow
Good night my darling with heaps of love from
[underlined] Monday Evening 2/12/40 [/underlined]
My Dearest Ursula,
Once again I will have a go a [sic] this letter. It now appears that the address with which I started it is our permanent one so that I shall be looking forward to hearing from you a day or two after I have sent this off.
I am afraid that the R.A.F, or at least some sections of it, [deleted] are [/deleted] is in an infernal muddle. No one seems to have had the slightest idea of what to do with us here, why we have come, where we are to be housed or what we are to do for keeping ourselves warm during day & night. The married quarters in which apparently we are to live have beds & 4 blankets only but no coal, no light, no sheets, no pillows, no black out facilities, no wood, no brooms for sweeping out the place and no materials for cleaning basins & sinks, no hot water. Some of these things are “on the way” we understand but no promised time has been given. However we have scrounged a lot of builders planks etc. for wood which we have broken up by hand, we have been given hurricane lamps & we stick a blanket over the window for black out purposes. Of course the rooms are bitterly cold during the night and 4 blankets are really not sufficient. A further worry is the fact that all our spare clothing is still at the bombed laundry to which we sent it at Bridgnorth. Will you please be a darling and send me as soon as you can
[symbol] [circled 1] Pair of pants – my warmest
[symbol] [circled 2] Vest “ “
[symbol] (3) My “sweat suit” – brown trousers & jacket.
[symbol] (4) Clean tea cloth
[symbol] (5) towel – not an enormous one but not one of those silly little hand towels
[symbol] (6) Some more handkerchiefs
[symbol] (7) [indecipherable word]
My shirt of course is filthy but I shall just have to wear it until my other returns from Bridgnorth or I get issued with another
[page break]
4 We have [deleted] done [/deleted] been here for three complete days but so far I, myself, have not done the slightest stroke of work although a few have done all night guard duties. However, this morning we were taken on a tour of all the gun posts of the ‘drome and I gather that we are to be split into partners to man these posts. When that is done we shall do 24 hrs on duty & 24 off, but on the “off” day we will be confined to camp until 4.30. When on duty we will sleep by the guns in our clothes. All guns are in the open air and the crews of four of the posts sleep in tents. The men on the remainder sleep in dug outs and although they look cold and wet I hope I get one of them. The thought of sleeping in a tent at this time of year just doesn’t attract me.
The discipline of this camp is far more lax than that of Bridgnorth and we have been described as the smartest [deleted] cr [/deleted] squad to arrive here for many a day. I am dreadfully afraid that we shall slack off though for with baths difficult and no supervision of uniform and no means of cleaning out the billets it is not easy to maintain a high standard of cleanliness
I am in disgrace again and really it is all your fault. When writing to you on Saturday night I had to counter the very poor lighting provided. To do this I hung the hurricane lamp just above the fire and sat very close to it so that I could be as warm as possible & get the maximum light. I don’t remember doing so but I must have crossed one knee over the other and hung the toe of one boot too close to the fire. At any rate, the following morning I found a chunk of the welt of my boot missing. The only possible explanation which occurs to me is that I must have dried the boot until the leather was stiff and then in the blackout stumbled over something and broken off the missing piece. I took the boot in for repairs today but the official looked very dubious and said that he would have to consult with the boot repairer before letting me know if they could do the repair. If they can’t I shall be called for an explanation of the damage and possibly put on a charge for negligence. I shall learn tomorrow.
Yesterday evening, I went into Grantham to make a few enquiries at different hotels before I ‘phoned you. I wasn’t able to get anything cheap that looked good enough for you but there was accomodation [sic] available so I ‘phoned you to see what your intentions were. It was lovely to hear your voice again but I was very sorry that you didn’t come although it was probably the most sensible decision to make as Barbara didn’t seem to be very keen. Bowacks wife has been staying in the town for these few days. I met her last night
[page break]
when I had a [deleted] few [/deleted] drink with them while waiting for my ‘phone call to come through.
The food here is not quite up to the Bridgnorth standard but nevertheless quite satisfactory and there is plenty of it. I must be getting tougher already for the cold I anticipated after all the waiting about last week has gone already although I haven’t completely shaken off my cough yet. I feel very fit though and am quite looking forward to testing my constitution in the conditions under which we shall have to do our duties. At the moment it appears to me that they will be rigorous in the extreme. That reminds me, will you put Cousin Mays Balaclava helmet in the parcel. [symbol]
In [underlined] possibly [/underlined] a weeks time, I shall [underlined] probably [/underlined] know a little more about my duties and hours so that we might consider something for Barbara next leave. I imagine that my leave will be very scanty and I think that time off at Christmas is most unlikely. We shall have to do a 7 day week of course for these guns have to be manned whatever the day or season may be. However, I think it is a relatively safe job for there have been no attacks on this camp up to date.
It is much more interesting being at a place where there are aircraft about. There are hundreds of them here, taking off and landing day and night. It is quite easy to have a “flip” although I have failed twice through going up at the wrong time. [deleted] It [/deleted] The station exists only for training purposes but it is an advanced training camp using chiefly Avro Ansons (twin engine) and Fairey Battles. The night flying is actually done at a field two miles away as a precaution against enemy aircraft being attracted by the landing flares. We are allowed to wander anywhere we like in the hangars or on the drome and it is quite exciting to hear the noise of many propellors [sic] & to see planes landing & taking off at almost every minute of the day.
Well dear – I have written eight sheets all about myself. Having done them at odd moments I have probably bored you and repeated myself over & over again. I now want to hear from you and of you and all that you are doing and thinking. Don’t disappoint me.
I have just remembered. Please may I have 10/- and some stamps. I haven’t indulged in expensive living, but with this eternal waiting & a large appetite induced by the cold I have considerably overspent my wages since leaving Bridgnorth.
How are you my dear. Keep well & mind the bombs and love your affectionate husband John as he loves you xxxx.



John Ross Mckenzie Valentine, “Letter from John Valentine to his wife Ursula,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed February 27, 2024, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/19113.

Item Relations

This item has no relations.