Major Leslie Petch - War letters and war diary from Dunkirk - 1 of 6
These are some of the letters which my Father, Leslie Petch, wrote to my mother while he was in France prior to being rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk. They were written to my Mother and I have only altered them where the meaning was not clear. Jill Garrett (nee Petch).
The letters begin just before the journey to France.
17 April 1940 - Monday evening 10.15 p.m
I have just seen to supper and to bed about 70 of my Company who had just arrived back from Middlesbrough by special train. There is a rumour we are getting a new Brigadier but don’t know who! The next rumour is that we move again on Wednesday to a place on the coast beyond Bournemouth, some 5 miles east of that town on the coast. I understand it is fairly definite. However will let you know as soon as I can. Hope you had no more alarming nights and that Baba has forgiven me for the disturbance last night when I left.
21 April 1940 - Friday noon
I was loathed to leave you and Jill especially after a terrifying night. I had not realised before you certainly do not like the German planes over. I had made up my mind to get you down here at once, but true to the Army, this morning we have just received orders to move tomorrow to 17 miles from Bournemouth – I will let you know the place, I think it is Wall Station: at any rate it is a bit of a military centre and is within 2 miles of the tank headquarters. I believe we are, as a Brigade, all going to join the 50th Division, which is moving south from the Chester area. I have told Miss Richards (my landlady) and am very disappointed at the news. I got a train right through and arrived here about 10.15 p.m. Hope you had no air raid last night – they were at Billingham on Wednesday night. Will let you know as soon as I have news.
War Letters varied in their length depending on what time was available to write them. Some were very short:
Some letters were longer but none told of where they were or what they were employed to do. They were only able to talk about their life in the camp.
24 April 1940 - Basingstoke – Southampton 2 p.m.
I am giving this letter to Bolsover to post at Southampton. The train is very rocky – it is not any drinks we have had, as there is only tea on the train! We had 2 very enjoyable concerts last night and got all the Company on the train safely. I slept well until 8 a.m. Three of us are in a compartment - Padre, Bolsover and self. I am looking forward to the journey as we are quite a jolly crowd and the journey is passing quickly so far. There are 10 troop trains in front of us and we have 6000 palliasses for the Division. I hear it is somewhere near Arras where we are going. The story is now we come back in July and our camp will either be at Hutton near Guisborough, or over at Helmsley or at Taw Law. Quite a lot of the Division have not come out. The Padre thanks you for your heartfelt greetings and sends his. The train is very rocky! All my love to you and Jill. Will you try to get Liz a pair of roller skates for her birthday and I will try to bring something?
26 April 1940
I have written a disjointed letter to the Farm and am just recovering from beaucoup laughing! We have done a great many letters and as we censor them all together in this local village pub – the mirth is not all due to the local vin blanc! My cold is much better and I am about fit again. We had a good journey and no one was seasick. We are glad to have a rest and get into a good bed. I slept 2 nights with my clothes on. The men are in a village about the size of Guisborough billeted in barns with straw on the floor. They are quite happy and are sorry it is only a temporary arrangement. We all went into the bigger village last night and 22 officers had dinner together.
Postcard from Valliquerville
Six of us are at this roadside pub and all are learning French quickly from the vivacious mademoiselle of about 16 years old. Richard Dorman is the best scholar, having spent several weeks with the French people. It is most amusing – I don’t think I have ever laughed so much in my life. One or two of the sergeants cannot speak a word of French and shout louder and louder at the local people who do not understand them at all!
Major Petch's call-up papers - click to view.
Example of a standard tick box letter - click to view.
War letters from France – from the 6th Battalion of the Green Howards
An example of the Major's WW2 letters, written in pencil. Click pic to view.
These letters and diary do not appear in Bill Cheall's published war story, though the book does cover some of the same period.