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Gerald R. Rees Papers: Transcripts - MS 1007
We had our first glimpse of the ocean since last February yesterday, on our way to a camp near LeHavre. We left Camp Brooklyn late Friday night and traveled by a troop train which apparently did not dare go over fifteen MPH for fear the wheels would fall off. It was a long and dreary ride, but even so, I like moving much better than sitting around, especially when we move in the right direction. The camp we're in now is called Lucky Strike and is about forty miles north of LeHavre. It is entirely a tent camp except for central administration buildings which are prefabricated huts. The Red Cross has a large recreation center in several huge circus tents-a movie tent, reading and writing places, coffee and doughnuts, etc. There is a portable shower unit with plenty of hot water which was welcome after the train ride. The food is served at large central kitchens and it is excellent. All the food serving, K.P. and perhaps even the cooking is being done by German P.W.'s who seem tickled to death to have the chance to work around an American kitchen where they get enough to eat.
The ocean makes itself felt here, several miles inland. There's a very strong wind with a noticeable tang to it, blowing all the time. That makes things far from quiet in our tent home, but if the ropes hold I guess we're all right.
I hope Johnny caught his plane and is home now. Not having the Ford along will probably cramp his and Eleanor's visiting around somewhat, though. You said Vernon was not getting his leave, but neglected to mention his address. He must still still be on the west coast.
American Red Cross
London, July 9, 1945
The army has added another chapter to my expense-paid sight-seeing tour of Europe, as you can see by the heading. If I remember right, my last letter was written at Camp Lucky Strike, near LeHavre. From there, I may as well say because you must have guessed it, we were to sail for home. We even got as far as sending our luggage to the boat and were all set to climb aboard, when the old army habit of doing the unexpected cropped up again.
So we went aboard a little channel packet and five hours later docked at Southhampton after a glassy-smooth crossing. That was last Friday. The landing was old stuff since we had come in there last December. I must say that I was pretty glad to see those chalk cliffs again, and under any other circumstances would have been delighted, except that it's a poor substitute for home.
If the home papers are carrying the news of the huge numbers of troops being redeployed this month, you can easily understand how one insignificant observation battalion was shuttled off to England to wait for shipping space at some later date, and to relieve the congestion around LeHavre. At least it's a great relief to be all set to sail for the States instead of the Pacific; perhaps one of these days we'll squeeze into an odd corner of a transport and get home at least for a while.
In the meantime I'm quite overwhelmed by the life we've led so far in England. The main difference from our previous stay, of course, is that there are virtually no U.S. troops left in England, and since the war is over, there is a lot more freedom. We stay at a camp about ten miles north of Winchester and also near Andover, and an hour-and-a-half train ride from London. It is a former British garrison-permanent buildings and real, genuine hot running water-an invention not yet introduced to the rest of Europe. The entire camp is operated by German P.W.'s watched over by a few U.S. soldiers. As a result we have absolutely none of the usual noxious tasks connected with living in an army camp. Strange as it may seem, the Germans are excellent cooks and really try to put out good meals, which is much more than an American army cook ever does. An example of how the little things are noticed, we had spinach the other day, and instead of the usual tasteless mass of greenery the army puts out, it was fixed with vinegar just as you fix it. Their fried chicken is delicious, but I won't enlarge on that subject in respect to your feelings-or is the meat shortage better than it was?
There are army-operated buses and trucks to take us into Winchester and half of the unit is given passes each day. In fact, the army is leaning over backwards to provide good times. There are a number of 24-hour passes to London each day; trucks take us to Andover where we get a special coach on a through train to London-we don't even pay train fare. In both Winchester and London the Red Cross clubs are almost deserted, and one can take advantage of all their fine facilities without feeling crowded in the least. I went to Winchester yesterday, and found it to be a charming and beautiful small city with the peculiar mixture of ancient and modern that is noticeable in most English towns. I went swimming at an outdoor pool, trunks furnished by the Red Cross, who also provide tennis rackets, balls and shoes for the many tennis courts in town. So you see that after I tire of museums, cathedrals and relics there is still no lack of things to do.
Today's trip to London has been strictly a theater trip; I feel I've seen a fair share of the landmarks of the place and can concentrate on the plays and music. Although it is Monday, one of the musical comedies we wanted to see had a matinee, so we were able to see two performances. The evening play, as the program enclosed indicates, was pure comedy, non-educational but highly entertaining. As a carry-over from blitz days, the evening plays start very early and are finished by 8:30 or 9:00-hence this letter. It's too early to go to bed and the only other thing to do is sit in a pub (bar) and get drunk, which fortunately neither my companion or I have any desire to do. We are in a comfortable lounge at the Red Cross club at which we're staying tonight; the radio here just broadcast the "Information Please' program from the Olympia theater in Paris. I was at that theater not long ago and it seemed strange to hear Clifton Fadiman speaking from there.
Thursday night there is to be a top-notch symphony concert in Winchester and the American girl at the Red Cross-bless her heart-is getting a reserved seat ticket for me if we are still in England by then, as we most likely will be.
Well, here I am literally waiting for my ship to come in; afraid it may be a long time coming but it will eventually; see you then.
American Red Cross
Cambridge University, July 13th
Hello to you all from another stop on my G.I. sightseeing tour. Let's see if I can remember what's happened since last Monday.
Tuesday morning we returned to camp from London just in time to put our names in for another pass to London...so it goes. This trip we not only saw two plays in one day, but also Walt Disney's "The Three Caballeros". Did you see it? It's his newest kind of film in which Donald Duck appears with real live actors-looks convincing, too. The plays were wonderful. In the afternoon was "The Skin of our Teeth" starring Vivian Leigh ("Gone with the Wind"). I didn't see the movie but she was certainly good in this play. In the evening we saw "Rosalinda" which is the English title for Johannes Strauss's operetta "Fledermaus" or "The Bat". I'd have given a lot if you could have seen it; it was full of his waltzes, which seem doubly good when they accompany a Viennese scene on the stage.
Continuing this rather breathless schedule, I went to a symphony concert at the town hall in Winchester Thursday night, the first real concert I'd seen in over six months. The orchestra was from London and was very good. I'm sending the program and you'll see that it was a good one.
This morning I was off again, this time to visit one of the famous university centers of England. It is about 60 miles north of London and took a little less than four hours. The trains aren't very crowded on weekdays now, and they run on schedule right to the minute.
I won't have time to do this beautiful town justice; have to start back tomorrow noon. The various colleges cover most of the town although there is a good sized shopping district and several parks. The Red Cross has taken over a nice hotel on the edge of the university grounds, so board and room is no problem for soldiers.
I have seen two things lately that I've always wanted to; one is a cricket match, that strange and popular British game. Thursday afternoon I happened on a cricket field near Winchester College (which isn't really a college, but a high school.) By persistent questioning I was finally able to get the general idea of the game. Some people think it's similar to baseball, but the two are entirely different; cricket is little girls' sport compared to baseball. When they told me that a match usually lasts a day-and-a-half, I decided very quickly not to wait to see who won this particular match.
The other ambition was to see and hear the soap-box oraters in Hyde Park. There are dozens of them scattered along the edge of the park, each with a group of curious onlookers gathered around. Some were actually good speakers and had something to say, but most were crackpots.
A couple other summertime sports of the British that are interesting are bowling on the green, and lawn tennis. The bowling is done on a carpet-smooth grass court like our golf-greens, but is not at all like our bowling. It's a dull-looking tame something on the order of our shuffle-board. (Remember the shuffle-board courts at Lakeside?)
The lawn-tennis is the same as our tennis, but played on a smooth grass court. I would have thought that the grass would deaden the bounce of the ball and slow up the game, but it doesn't if the court is well-kept. The only Britishers who can play this summer are those lucky enough to have American friends who send them tennis balls, since there are none for sale here. This is the first summer in six long years that the English have been able to kick up their heels and have a good time and they are certainly doing it. Their gasoline ration has been raised to one gallon per month, so they can take out the old flivver for an occasional ride now. The resort hotels and beaches are open again, and-to their relief-they can move around a little without stumbling over an American soldier. Six years is a long time without a vacation, isn't it?
When this pass expires tomorrow my gadding about is at an end. I went on the theory that I would take full advantage of every chance to travel until my money ran out, and then quit. I figure it has been well worth the money. There is no indication as to when our ship will come in, but I hope it's soon, although there's also the thought that every day here is a day less in some less desirable part of the earth. The Japs should know they're licked by this time, but apparently they don't.
Sincere there has been no mail coming in and won't be, I'll have to assume that everything's in good shape at home, that E. & J. had a good time in Toledo, and even hope that you will get the corn and tomatoes from your garden before the bugs do.
American Red Cross
London, July 20, 1945
There wasn't nearly as much time at Cambridge as I should like to have spent, but I was glad to have seen as much as I did. Last Sunday I recuperated from the week's travels, and Monday had a very interesting trip to Salisbury and vicinity. I went by bus from Andover, which is just five miles from our camp. The bus ride was only a little over an hour-the service is excellent; has to be, since there are so few private cars to take people where they want to go.
The cathedral at Salisbury ranks along with the best ones I've seen. I've given up trying to decide which is really the prettiest or most inspiring. This one certainly justifies its' claim to having the most beautiful spire in Europe. It's like a long finger pointing up to the sky, and shows for miles.
Late in the afternoon we took another bus to a famous (but until now unknown to me) prehistoric ruins called Stonehenge, a stone monument erected some 3700 years ago. This part of the country is full of ancient things-Roman roads, mounds and old camps that would probably mean a lot more to me had I been a better student of history or geology.
This week has been rainy and uncertain and I haven't done much traveling. This morning we came up to London and did a bit of sight-seeing. This evening we saw the most popular current musical comedy in town, "Perchance to Dream." Then we went walking and saw our first good sample of "when the lights go on again." Just a few days ago London turned on its powerful floodlights for the first time, lighting up the streets and buildings like day. It's good to see these gradual come-backs that England is making since we were here last. Workmen are busy cleaning away rubble and chipping away the unsightly brick fronts that were put up to protect the more important buildings. Men were working at Westminster Abbey taking sand-bags away from the windows and patching holes in damaged places. There is ice-cream-of a sort-for sale in the streets for the first time. They are even sand-blasting and cleaning the blackened fronts of some of the buildings. London is one of the blackest cities I've seen.
Yesterday I had a very unexpected and pleasant surprise in the form of a promotion to the grade of staff-sergeant. That carries with it, among other things, a base pay of ninety-six bucks a month which goes up to about $120 in overseas pay. There are a few privileges and social advantages that go with it also but which are quite incidental to the pay, of course. The rating was made vacant by Sgt. House going to the hospital; they seem to think it's more serious than just and appendix and that he won't come back for some time.
Every letter I write these days has with it the hope that I will get home before it does, but as yet an unfounded hope. Next one, maybe.
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