Letter from John Valentine to his wife Ursula



Letter from John Valentine to his wife Ursula


Relates that mail has caught up with him from Bridgnorth. Pleased to get news from home and is getting on with ordering materials for the shelter. Describes excitement of overflight by Ju-88 with air raid warning and sitting in shelter. Describes action of camp anti-aircraft guns. Complains about camp, duties, lack of light and laundry facilities and situation in general. Writes of poor guard changing, manning and guns being taken away. Mentions visit to Grantham. In postscript letter mentions Lewis gun lecture and other activities. Continues to complain about accommodation and asks for items to be sent.



Temporal Coverage



Six page handwritten letter


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No. 17 Wed. 4/12/40
MQ 44 12FTS RAF Station
Grantham, Lincs
My dearest Ursula A lovely surprise today. I knew that you couldn't have written to me here already but your NS&M arrived from Bridgnorth & a letter from you (I love you) was inside. Was I thrilled – I'll say. I was so glad to hear your news of the shelter & Bethune (your letter was written a week ago today) I hope that by now you will have made further progress with the ordering of materials for the shelter. I don't see why the man shouldn't be able to make it entirely waterproof but if it is impossible, tell him to do his best & let me know how things go. I certainly think that he will be cheaper than anyone else & if he knows anything about the work he ought to be able to do it as well as anyone.
We had a little excitement yesterday when a Junkers 88 visited us. It was a day of continuous fine drizzle with low cloud at about 3000 feet. The warning went in the afternoon & those of us not on guns (myself included) were sent to shelters where we sat for 20 minutes or so. The the All Clear sounded & we left the shelter only to hear the warning signal about 2 minutes later. Several of us thought that it would prove to be another fiasco so we hid behind our shelter where we couldn't be spotted by officers. In a few minutes the drone of an aircraft could be heard & then we saw him. What a thrill ! He was just about cloud level so he kept on appearing & vanishing as he flew out of & into the lowest clouds. Of course, he was quite low & flying in a straight line dead over the 'drome & camp. However, he appeared to take no notice of it & the camp guns (of which there are quite a number) withheld their fire for fear of disclosing anything of their positions or the nature of the thing they were guarding. We grew quite excited & shouted to all & sundry to open fire. However when he had passed the camp guns opened up from all quarters & we saw him surrounded by little puffs of smoke. Then suddenly he disappeared & all was quiet for a few seconds. Then he came into sight again over Grantham & flying in our direction. Guns opened up once more & the plane went into a shallow dive. Then we saw three bombs leave the aircraft & a few seconds later columns of smoke shot up from the ground. After completing his dive, he opened up his engines & roared towards us, rising all the time. The noise of gunfire was now terrific, the most thrilling sight being the hundreds of tracer bullets shooting past him & all around. However, although we shouted encouragement to our gunners, Jerry disappeared finally into the clouds, apparently unhurt. We have heard today that he was hit, & being unable to maintain his height, crashed a few miles away. We await confirmation of the story before believing it. One bomb hit a brewery but did little damage, another fell near a large factory & again was comparatively harmless while the third, a DA., exploded today killing the officer in charge of the bomb disposal party. It was my first sight of real action & has given me quite a bit of excitement.
I have now written a page & a half without a grumble so it is now time for me to start. This is a lousy dump indeed. After five days on the station I have yet to start on my duties although I have had a few half-hearted fatigues given to me (& others) not because they were really necessary, but just to give us something to do. Most of the time we spend awaiting the next meal & as far as effective work is concerned we are almost completely idle. For some reason or other I am the only one of the 24 who came from Bridgnorth who has not done any guard duty but the others have done only one turn of all night camp patrol or 24 hours on a gun post. My turn should come tomorrow & I pray that it is not one of the four guns, the crew of which sleep in a tent. It is amazing how the prevailing slackness of the camp infects one because when performing the few fatigues allotted me I have been as dilatory as any lazy slacker could be. It was partly due to the fact that I knew that the job was not really necessary & in any case I shouldn't have been told to do it & partly to avoid being given another silly job if I should happen to finish too soon. I have tried three times to get a flip in a plane but had no luck so far. Shortage of parachutes is the trouble – there are only a few spare ones available.
We still have no sheets, pillows, lighting etc. & the coal delivered yesterday is already exhausted. It is almost impossible to read or write for long in the light of the hurricane lamp, so apart from writing to you I spend a lot of time staring into the fire which we manage to keep doing with wood scrounged from somewhere or other. I am developing a horror of filth. My shirt, underclothes & handkerchiefs almost sicken me & I have to shut my eyes whenever I use my towel – it is absolutely black. Today I had my first bath since arriving here & there being no HW at our billets I went over to one of the barrack rooms. The water was merely tepid while the bath looked as if it had coped with 1000 men since its last cleaning. On account of the coolness of the water & dirtiness of the bath I performed my ablutions in the erect position, sitting down only for a hurried rinse at the end of the operation. Was it a wretched bath or was it? We haven't yet been provided with brooms or materials for cleaning our basins etc. so the quarters are rapidly becoming too dirty for my liking & as we never have hot water our hands are assuming the appearance of those of a chimney sweep. Nobody loves us, nobody wants us, nobody has anything for us to do, nobody is in charge of us, nobody....etc. We see nothing but a blank wall of ignorance about our prospects & it is obvious that we are not required & only a bloody nuisance to the Ground Defence Staff on the Station.
Incidentally that Staff must be the most inefficient body of bloody boobs ever told to do a job which is really quite an important one. 75% of them are on guns which they haven't the slightest idea how to use. They are never given instructions, the posts are never inspected, their uniforms & boots are disgustingly dirty, they wear odd scarves & gloves & sometimes no ties. The other day a Corporal visited a post. At least one member of the crew should always be on the lookout but instead some were asleep & the others all writing. When the Camp Patrol is on duty at night time the guards call into gun posts for cups of tea & a chat instead of marching up & down the 'drome boundaries. When the guard changes, all the patrols congregate at a central point in the camp thus leaving the whole camp & 'drome unpatrolled while the changing of the guard takes place. Ursula, it is so inefficient that I am thoroughly ashamed to be a part of it. Yesterday four of the guns were taken away & are not to be replaced for some days, but the posts are still manned by 4 fellows per post for 24 hours a day. Incredible isn't it? I had better stop or I shall start getting angry with you too – my dearest.
Last night Bowack & I went down to Grantham just to get out of the place. We went to a flick – Return of the Frog – but it wasn't worth the 1/2d which the seat cost. A London Angus member had a small part in it, David Kerr who went to school with my Father – you may have met him. After the show we had a modest meal - welsh rarebit & coffee. It was delightful to have something nicely served & such a contrast to the canteen here where there is plenty of food but it is thrown at one. Unfortunately the jaunt cost me 3/- altogether – 2 days pay! My finances are in a lousy condition & I pray that my appeal for funds won't fall on deaf ears. If we were busy, I shouldn't spend so much but with all this idleness I have spent a fortnight's pay (£1) in a week. It has got to stop. Darling – my eyes are tiring & I will cease fire for the night. I long for a letter from you in the morning – I really am longing for it. Goodnight my dear – lots of love, John
Thursday 5/12/40 My dearest Ursula, Your hoped for letter did not arrive this morning & I was terribly disappointed, but I expect that the post office is chiefly to blame for the delay. There is, too, the consolation that I will have a letter tomorrow. Today has been a fairly interesting one for we have spent the whole of it having a lecture on the Lewis Gun, interrupted only by a full scale Gas practice this morning & an Air Raid warning this afternoon. For some extraordinary reason, I have yet to do a duty on Camp patrol or at a gun post. All the other fellows have now done one duty, & some have even done two but my name hasn't been called at all. I must admit that I am not at all keen to be up all night patrolling the 'drome or to spend 24 hours in a remote corner of it sitting in a turf dug-out or spending my off hours sleeping in a tent so I am not going to point out to my superior officers that as yet I haven't done a single stoke of my real work yet.
Tonight our conditions in the billets are worse than ever for when we returned in the evening we found to our horror that all the hurricane lamps had disappeared. It is early closing day in the town & it was therefore impossible to buy candles but after an anxious half hour we managed to borrow one, by the light of which I am writing this. Unfortunately, it is only a 'Woolworths cheapest' & gives a poorer light even than a hurricane. Infuriated by the requisitioning of our lamps Bowack & I sallied forth at dusk determined to scrounge something that would give us a good fire even if adequate lighting were impossible. We took a tin with us & headed for the coke dump. We had previously noted that the very ample coke stocks were kept in their place by wire fences & that, at the back of the heap, a lot of coke had fallen through the fence. No one was about so we were able to gather enough coke for at least two evening's fires, the first of which is now warming us beautifully. We should get a little hot water from it too for our fire heats the system in the house. Up till now, having had only wood for fuel, we haven't been able to generate sufficient heat to make much impression on the HW tank. If you haven't already sent some, could I have a lot of handkerchiefs. It was stupid of me to have returned some to you but I had not anticipated the enormous requirements of my streaming nose & phlegm-producing cough. I ought to be using two handkerchiefs a day just now instead of one every two days so when you receive my dirty ones treat them very gingerly. They are of course filthy & their stench is abominable.
In a day or two your birthday will come round. How I wish I could be with you to celebrate it darling, but I fear that the fates are against it. With all my heart I wish to many many happy returns of 8th December & I pray that we may never again be apart when it recurs. I asked Mother to get & send you something which I hope you will like. If the articles in question should not fit, don't hesitate to let Mother know for I specially asked her to make arrangements for that eventuality. Every best wish & lots & lots of love & as many hypothetical kisses as you want. As soon as the King will let me I intend coming to see you to transform the kisses into the concrete form – that doesn't sound very inviting to you I know, but you ought to be able to hazard a guess at my meaning. Do you know that I am absolutely starved of news of you. Apart from your letter included in the NS&M & written only 2 days after I saw you last I haven't heard a word of your activities or health. I know that it couldn't be helped but nevertheless I long for a long letter.
This camp is lousy for evening pastimes. I have told you of our lighting difficulties in the billet but the whole camp hasn't much to offer. The only common room with any lighting is the NAAFI but that is a tiny building, built for a camp of 350 whereas there are more than five times that number here now. However, it does have a small writing room with about 6 tables but it is absolutely impossible to get near them in the evenings. In any case, as soon as the warning goes (& that is every night) all the electricity in the whole camp is switched off at the main. It is thus impossible to read anywhere & very uncomfortable to write. Don't grumble any more John. There is one great advantage here, over Bridgnorth. I live in a room with only two other occupants instead of the noisy rabble. My two cronies were carefully selected & are very congenial company. Bowack in particular I like very much. He is, as I told you a farmer but is financially independent, has always been accustomed to two or three cars & owns three houses in different parts of the country. Nevertheless he is very charming, quiet & unassuming. If neither of us get Xmas leave, we would like to invite our respective wives to Grantham & have a joint celebration. How would you like the idea. You might spend a few days here & you would have 21 year old Mrs Bowack for company during the day & even your own hubbies' company in the evening. The two husbands might even get sleeping out passes. Bowack & I are to look for suitable digs for 2 respectable married couples. Let me know how you would react to such a suggestion if it should be made to you. I must finish this letter tonight & I long for one from you tomorrow morning. All my love, dearest & more love than ever for your birthday John



John Ross Mckenzie Valentine, “Letter from John Valentine to his wife Ursula,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 1, 2024, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/19116.

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