Letter from John Valentine to his wife Ursula



Letter from John Valentine to his wife Ursula


Letter written over at least two days describing his activities, poor accommodation and weather. He was please with parcel and especially a long letter from her with details of all her activities. Mentions delays in mail, financial and domestic matters. He is sending her a large parcel of washing. Continues with criticism of live, duties and life in general.



Temporal Coverage



Eight page handwritten letter


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AC2 Valentine,
MQ 44, 12 FTS
RAF Grantham

Friday 6-12-40

Chess move Pawn H7 to H5
Knight G1 to F3 Keep it going now.
Sunday. Am going on guard again tonight, so if I don’t phone that is the reason. Happy birthday & Love.
Things are looking up now – we’ve got electric lights & had a go at N.S. & M. Someone had used the inside sheets to light a fire so I won’t bother returning the remainder. Please continue to send it. I enjoy it and won’t let it happen again.

My dearest Ursula, I don’t know how long I shall be able to stick at this letter, but I will do my best. It is now 2 pm & I am off duty, until 4 o'clock so at a normal place I would be able to set down comfortably to a one sided written conversation with my wife. Alas, things are different here. The billets, atrociously lit by night have windows painted dark blue. If there should be any lights in the room at night time the paint is useless for black out, while during the day the rooms are far too dark to read or write. It is just like late dusk here & because of the roaring hurricane outside, it is impossible to open any windows. The slightest opening causes a veritable tornado in these small rooms as well as a frigid temperature. Your parcel arrived this morning at a very opportune time, as I will tell you in a minute. Thank you so much, my dear, for answering to my needs so promptly. I am indeed lucky in having such a darling guardian angel. I am a bit worried by one thing though. In the short note accompanying the parcel, you mentioned a letter you had sent with money in it, but no such missive has reached me. I hope that it was registered for that would explain the delay & reassure me against my anxiety about its possible disappearance. I shan't send off this today in the hope that I might be able to let you know should it arrive tomorrow morning. I still am in suspense for real news of you, for as I said in my last letter, nearly two weeks have elapsed since I saw you & I have, of course, not had any letter during that time. Perhaps I shall hear tomorrow morning – invariably my last thought each night, while in the morning I am full of expectancy until the post is handed out. Be patient, John, be patient.
Today my spell of immunity from real work is to end in an hour or so. I have been posted for a turn of all night 'drome patrol but I don't know which watches I shall do. Your parcel was therefore doubly welcome for the Balaclava & Sweat shirt will be extremely useful. Thank you again Dearest. Grant tells me that the two best spells of guard duty are from 5.30 to 8 pm & 12 midnight to 2.30, for thereby you get only one interruption to your normal sleeping time. This morning we had a little trip out of camp on a fatigue of course. There is to be an RAF Officers dance at the RAOC headquarters in the town & we poor idiots had to load chairs on to a lorry, accompany it into the town, unload into an old barrack room & get to work sweeping the floor & getting the whole place ship shape for the frolics. Had I not been detailed for guard duty tonight I should have been down there with my fellows at this very moment. The light is too poor my dear for me to continue, so I shall shut down until the morning when I hope to be refreshed by a letter from you. Until then, all my love, John
Twenty Four Hours Later My Dear, Gee Baby , I feel like a million dollars. This morning I received from you a lovely long letter full of just the sort of details I wanted about you; some money & stamps & also your second parcel. Now I have put on clean socks clean pants, clean vest, clean collar & a clean shirt. If only my hands were a little more respectable I should feel almost sufficiently presentable to meet my own sweet wife. I have many things to say to you that I hardly know where to begin, but I think I will start by browsing through your letter & following any train of thought that it might start.
First of all the shelter: I am glad that you have been able to syphon away much of the water, but as it will be impossible to use it until it has been treated I don't think it will be worth your while baling out the rest. If & when you can get someone to attend to it, let them get rid of the remaining water. I am firmly of the opinion that it must be cemented, regardless of cost & cannot see why it can't be rendered waterproof. My suggestion is that when you have got a concrete wall (up to ground surface level) & a floor (both several inches thick) the whole should be lined with pitch or some similar substance. The surface of the pitch can then be painted, the floor protected by rug or board & the whole thing should be absolutely waterproof. Try this suggestion on the gardener & see how he reacts; also tell him to include the steps down to the shelter & the walls of the step passage; also tell him to remove only such electric wiring (including the little table) as interferes with the cement work. As regards your removal from Hendon to a less alarming part of the country, you know I am all in favour of it & that it is only through your own wish that you stay there. If at any time both before & after Baby's arrival you want to move I would be more relieved than by any other news (bar the cessation of the war). I am constantly worrying about your safety, even this week when I had to wait a day or two before hearing from you I kept imagining all sorts of accidents or disasters that might have occurred. However get the shelter done to lighten my burden of worry even if ever so slightly.
As regards Touche's cheque, they have obviously not started deducting tax yet, but I shouldn't worry them about it. The correct procedure, until tax deduction starts, is for you to open another a/c in your ledger headed Income Tax a/c & split the monthly £12.14.6 thus: LA £2.10/-; House £4; Income Tax £2.4.6; Sundries £4. Your arithmetical effort with regard to the LA is positively superb – in fact dead right. Your errors are that the premiums (or premia) are not due until 1st March by which date you will have, I think, £17.10.0 the remaining £12.10.0 is in my PO Savings Bank a/c. Please, dearest, drop the expression 'Job 1'. I loathe it, I abominate it, I hate it. Baby is something much more marvellous & tender & altogether superior to mass produced article. Baby is something that belongs only to you & me; is an animal creature, something that will be so helpless & look to you, especially, for everything, so delicate & so fragile. To call our own little creation 'Job 1' disgusts me. I loved all your meticulous details about Baby's outfit. You need never worry about sending such a minute account of the money spent – in fact I feel a twinge of conscience at your doing so, for possibly I am too niggardly towards you where money matters are concerned. You know that I trust you absolutely & you do me – you haven't questioned my spending although I have had one or two financial lifts (hitch hikes you know) from you. I am very glad indeed that you are going so early & thoroughly into the questions of clothing & accommodating our own little family. I long to be with you to discuss everything as you do it for I might even be able to help you. That being impossible, darling, always do just whatever you want & keep me informed as best you can without mentioning (unless you want to) such mean & sordid matters as shillings & pence.
As far as blankets for ourselves are concerned I am quite agreeable to buying a few more. We could take the money out of our Joint P.O. a/c. Would you like to consider those special blankets that the Freemans got? Alternatively drop a card to that place in Killin for their prices & sizes. They were certainly cheaper there than anywhere else. By all means buy soap, too, if it is not a more expensive way of getting it. What is your allowance? The £10 a month from your Mother? I thought that we agreed to touch that only if our own income was insufficient especially as we are charging your Mother £10 a month for Barbara's keep. If I have a family that doesn't try to be independent (without having to live in poverty) I should soundly spank them. My idea was that if Sundries a/c were to become overdrawn by deficiencies of Air Force Income & Barbara's keep, then we might make good the deficiency by sponging on your parents a bit more. However, if you want to do it, my dear by all means do so, but I thought we had agreed upon the procedures. Where it hurts me, Ursula, is that if ever you have to be financed by your Mother for necessities of life I feel that I am not providing for you sufficiently & therefore not doing my duty as a husband.
I wish you had come to Grantham at the beginning of the week. I was free every evening & could have had a sleeping out pass each night, a thing I shan't be able to do for a long time now for we are gradually settling down to a '1 day on 1 day off' basis. Fully half my fellows are already working on those lines. However, let me know how you feel about the Christmas idea. I would love it as you know & it would do you good to get you away from London. Tell Barbara that her fear (a stupid one) of her being a gooseberry really amounts to a ban on our ever being able to spend a few days together here. I would welcome her for her own sake not merely as a necessary evil to your delightful presence. The leave question here is absolutely impossible to forecast. Much if not all of the Station Defence is being done now by the RAF in place of the Army, new fellows are arriving daily & it may be months before any leave system is evolved. That doesn't mean that it will be months before we get leave, but that the time of each individuals leave is a complete mystery. I do know this though, that the Flight Sergeant in charge of Station Defence is doing his best, in very muddled circumstances, to allot leave as fairly as possible, with due regard to each man's length of service at this Station. Sleeping out passes for off duty nights may always be obtained. I am pleased to hear your news about the camphor wood chest. Do thank your Mother from me. By all means give a few onions to whomever you like, the inclusion of the Hazards is a nice thought but I can't recall anyone else on my side. As for Christmas cards I would like only a few sent. Mr & Mrs James Tout, Mr & Mrs Lovering, Ian Smith, Pat Fullerton Mr & Mrs Pullen (at the office). There are some rather nice air Force ones here at only 2d a time including envelopes. Grant, who knows a thing or two about that sort of a job thinks a lot of them. Would you like me to buy them & let you have them. If so let me know how many you want. They are not gaudy but very plain & rather austere. I was very much struck with them. The only Xmas present I would like sent apart from family & Dundee is to my Grandmother at Arbroath. I haven't the slightest idea but will ask Mother and let you know.
I am relieved to know that you have heard from Nurse Kerr & hope that you will be able to fix up things with her sometime. I agree that her fee is reasonable. Stewart for Christmas – 2 oz tobacco – Four square Yellow Label, Leslie likewise. The gloves for Ann will do for although I would like to give her something more, I can't think of anything. If you have any bright idea costing only a few shillings I would like her to have a little more. Tell Barbara, with very many thanks, that I really have enough sweaters. I don't want her to waste her time on something that really isn't necessary & any sort of sweater will do here. My blue one is quite good enough & I have the sweat suit & your Mother's maroon one to fall back upon. You see, I am likely to be out mostly at night time, but even at three gun posts, which really are cold, they are not very fussy about clothes since the great coat hides all. Perhaps when I am on flying training, a little more respectability might be required. I am sorry dear, but with the absence of light for reading I haven't been able to touch either NS&M or the library book yet. Going for tea, Darling – all my love John
Ninety Minutes Later Darling Ursula, I should have said 'Going for two teas' for when I returned from my first I met Grant & Bowack & returned in their company for a second dose. As a result I bulge considerably. I think I had disposed of your letter – now for the other things. Very many thanks for your more than welcome cash & stamps. One disadvantage of having fairly close friends is that one has to stick with them to some extent. Bowack, as I told you, is a wealthy man & Thomson gets his pay made up by his firm so that they don't have to watch every penny as I do. They are both very moderate fellows in every respect but I do have to spend a little more with them than by myself & yet I feel bound to join in with them to some extent because often either one or the other is on a duty so that the remaining one would otherwise be forced to spend a whole evening by himself. Your parcels are extremely welcome. I told you how grand it was to have on clean clothes while the joy of blowing ones nose into a clean handkerchief is one of the few pleasant discoveries that the RAF has yet allowed one. I think now, that I have as many clothes as I can comfortably wear, no matter how cold the weather. The shirt, you darling, was really a heavenly surprise. I had anticipated getting my undies from you sometime, but I feared that I might have to spend yet a few more weeks in my already filthy shirt pending recovery of the lost one or a re-issue. Unfortunately, dearest, the colour isn't too good. It is probably an officially allowed officer shirt but not an airman's. The collars of that style are verboten – in fact one of the chaps was pulled up today by a Flight Lieutenant for wearing a similar shirt & collar. Luckily, I have not lost any collars so that I can wear your new shirt with the official collar. The latter hides so much shirt & the tunic exposes so little that one can hardly see anything of it. I will keep the collars in reserve for, say, night duty (although they are far too good for that) or for the time when I am an officer. I can't tell you how much I appreciate the way you think for me – the shirt was an extremely pleasant surprise. Should any of the family ask you about a shirt for me for Xmas tell them that I now have enough. I am allowed to use only those which match the official airman's issue. Say that Officers shirts are taboo. I haven't tried the cake yet, but I look forward to doing so this evening – come & have a slice with me!! I have today sent you rather a large parcel of washing. I am sorry for it, my dear, but owing to the loss of clothes my existing ones got into a bit of a mess, as I have told you. I hope that I shan't have to send you the towel or shirt again – will hankies socks & pyjamas be alright? Don't bother to return the pyjamas or tea cloth until I ask. We have little storage room in our quarters & I don't want to increase the danger of loss by theft unnecessarily. The remainder could I have back at your earliest convenience. (Blast you John) especially the handkerchiefs. By the way, be very wary of those, THEY STINK I am sorry to say.
And now for a little less domestic chat. Since I started this letter I have done my first spell of guard duty. We reported at 5 pm yesterday & were taken into a centrally heated barrack room, eighteen of us. We were then split into sixes, the first patrolling from 5.30 to 8, & 12.30 till three. Acting on Grant's advice I volunteered for this. Each six split into twos, each pair having a different beat. I had previously drawn from the armoury a rifle & 50 bullets – or rounds. Yesterday was one of colossal wind – it really was terrific. I wore my sweat suit trousers under my RAF ones & the jacket under my tunic. With the Balaclava two scarves & two pairs of gloves the weight of clothing on my person & round my neck almost stifled me, the wind, besides being of hurricane force was also cold, but I was so warmly clad that I didn't feel the cold much. Unfortunately I was not paired off with Grant, having as my mate a rotten type of fellow, a thorough slacker & scrounger, anxious always to sit down, out of the wind for a rest. I was not at all keen to do this partly because I wanted to keep warm by moving all the time & partly because I was new to the job & therefore more conscientious than he, an old hand. We did not exactly agree on all points. Nevertheless, by a little give & take on both sides, he managed to have his rests & I to keep reasonably warm. The first watch started at dusk & was brilliantly moonlit. We had to patrol a side of the 'drome which we did without incident. Two gun ports were on the beat & I pitied those poor devils who do a 24 hours duty – 2 on & 4 off. Off duty they sleep in a tent & on they are confined to an exposed square in the centre of which stands the gun. The bitter wind yesterday must have made it hell's own job to keep oneself warm. I think it is a crying shame that at an established camp like this there should be 10 gun posts, the crews of all of which have to sleep under canvas throughout the winter months. We stopped for a short chat whenever we passed these posts but the fellows there seemed quite cheerful. Luckily it was free from rain & the cold & the howling gale made it rather exhilarating. Coming in at 8.30 we had supper of cold fried fish & baked beans & iced cocoa (more by accident than design) but fortunately the guard room was beautifully warm & had ELECTRIC LIGHT. We were then despatched to our billets for two, given a bed & 2 blankets & told to be quiet. We could either read or sleep in full kit ready to be out at a moments notice. I slept – restlessly. We were roused at 12.00 & sent out on the second patrol. The beat was different & the moon had disappeared. The wind still remained while the sky was clear & starlit. Our beat this time included the bomb & petrol dumps & reserve stores. They are very keen on netting for camouflage here but in the gale much of it had been blown loose & was trailing all over the place. Several times my rifle & bayonet became awkwardly tangled with flapping masses of netting, making it rather a difficult job to extricate in the darkness & wind. We passed by a similar store room, the door of which was open. Upon examination it proved to contain the flying kit of the pupil pilots on the station & my light fingered companion helped himself to a pair of beautiful soft leather fleecy lined flying boots. We had to smuggle these back unnoticed causing me quite a lot of worry, being an unwilling spectator, but he managed to do so. I cursed him later though, because we went by his watch & when just about to start for home we enquired of the time at a gun post, we were already 20 minutes overdue & landed back having done 30 minutes more guardianship (my own word) than we were told to do. A cup of tea had been awaiting us, but that of course was stone cold. We resumed sleeping fully clad until 7 am when we were sent back to the armoury to hand in rifles etc. It was not a bad job although in time it will become dreadfully boring. I feel fine today but my feet are rather sore because the boots haven't been off them for 36 hours. It will be 40 by the time I get to bed. About half those who arrived here with me are now on regular jobs – day off day on – so that soon I should be definitely settled. I hope I get last night's job because all are boring but camp patrol is considerably less arduous than any of them. I am getting much tougher though – the cold doesn't worry me nearly so much for we certainly have cold billets & I don't seem to mind them.
Grant & Bowack asked me after dinner if I would go up to the 'drome to cadge a flight in a kite (service slang). I refused having the much more pleasant job of writing to you & in any case expecting them to fail yet again. Instead, while I was pushing this pen around they spent two hours on a gloriously clear, cold December afternoon careering about the sky in an Anson – I shall try tomorrow. D.V. Reverting to Barbara's kindly offer to knit a sweater, may I drop a hint that I would like a pair of gloves in RAF colours. I want ordinary gloves, nothing fancy like mittens with zip fasteners & central heating, but with longish cuffs to meet my shirt, & fingers big enough to go over a pair of hogskin gloves. That combination acted admirably last night & it is unlikely that we shall have many gales of such force & frigidity
I have found a good spot for writing at last. If one comes on a Saturday afternoon & evening to the NAAFI writing room it is almost deserted. True one 25 watt lamp only, lights the whole room but that is better than a flickering candle or a hurricane lamp. There is a lot more that I could say but I am beginning to feel a little tired after last night so I shall shut down. Goodbye, my darling. Many many thanks for your lovely letter & the two parcels of surprises. Tomorrow is your birthday – I shall phone you many happy returns if I can get through. All my love John
PS May I have a battery for my torch sometime please?
PPS We've been given sheets at last. No more hairy blanket tickles
PPPS We've been given a sack filled with straw for a pillow
PPPPS Our hurricane lamps have been taken away.
PPPPPS There is a shortage of candles in Grantham so we can use only one at a time (this is not a hint – we three have feathered our nest well)
PPPPPPS I love you x x x x



John Ross Mckenzie Valentine, “Letter from John Valentine to his wife Ursula,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 26, 2024, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/19118.

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