Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Letters home from a war

Roger Hall
My uncle Roger joined the RAF straight after leaving school aged sixteen.

 By the time he was nineteen he had seen the blitz on Manchester, dodged German submarines in a convoy to South Africa and been bombed by the Luftwaffe in Greece.

All the more surprising given that he had been born in Germany and his mother was German. But the war played some odd tricks on people.

 Mother had also been born in Germany and she to joined the RAF only to be stationed in Lincolnshire on one of the airbases that staged nightly attacks on Cologne which was the city of her birth.

I have often wondered whether in the course of their active service either of them might have had to confront their cousins who were called up to the German armed forces.

84 Squadron Iraq
Bothe regularly wrote home.

The longest of the letters my uncle wrote ran to 22 pages.

 It was written in pencil and covered the period from Christmas 1940 to his arrival in Iraq. It is a powerful evocation of one young man’s war and all the more so because I never knew him.

 Later in the war he was shipped out to the Far East, captured by the Japanese and died of dysentery in a POW camp in Thailand. He was just 21.

I am sure my grandmother took some comfort from the letter; its rhythms follow his speech patterns and are peppered with youthful enthusiasm and contemporary slang.
“....... we were going to Manchester for a last fling, but, as it turned out, Manchester had it’s own private blitz that night –and boy – was it a beauty? We stayed at Wilmslow till Jan. 4th. This implies that I spent Xmas and New Year in Camp. Oh No!!”

And there were the photographs, small black and white snaps of the places he went.

One shows the Greek airfield shortly after it had been bombed, another of him working in a dust blown camp outside Basra, and then there is my favourite, Durban Town Hall.

It so perfectly matches the letter and I suppose was a moment when free from the dangers of war he could relax.

“I went ashore, walked around a bit, took a couple or so photographs and had a good meal.  

I had exhausted a good deal of my 10 shillings when I was picked up. 

Just you listen. I was standing on the corner of some main thoroughfare and a Buick limousine slide up, and the occupant, - one of the most charming girls I’v ever seen asked me “Would you feel insulted if I asked you to dinner?” 

Mother, she could have insulted me anyway she liked. 

 Anyway I remarked I should be delighted to be insulted, I climbed in, away we went, right out to the outskirts of the city, incidentally picking up two friends of mine on the way, Dinner!! 

Mother, that meal after 5 weeks on the boat was ambrosia  Just think, this girl, her sister, her father and mother, - all these in evening gowns and a dress-suit for the father, sitting down with us in Khaki shirt and shorts, stockings and sandals – it must have been a sight!”

And one I would love to have shared.

Pictures; Roger Hall, 84 Squadron, Greek HQ after raiders had passed over, 1941,and Town Hall Durban, 1941  from the collection of Andrew Simpson

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