Major Leslie Petch - War letters and war diary from Dunkirk - 2 of 6
30 April 1940
The letters from the men to their girls are delightful, in fact after reading about another 200 a day, I should be able to write you quite a respectable love letter. I must get on with them, as their sweethearts will be awaiting news. We are having a really gay time and when we move on to meet the rest of the party, it should be good fun. Hope all are keeping fit and lots of kisses to you, Liz and Jill – don’t forget Liz’s birthday present.
After reading and censoring about 50 letters – I have come to the conclusion I have a lot to learn in writing letters! Many of the fellows say ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ and ‘east or west home is best’. They are all promising to be true, especially as they think little of the French girls in the village. The reason being that the Mayor has warned them all to keep well clear of the English Tommy! The Padre lunched with the six of us and was introduced to our Mademoiselle Lu-Lu – he was quite taken with her! We all try out our French now and make some delightful howlers. Harold Kidd at lunch today after having soup and roast beef etc sat back and declared ‘Je suis plein’ - which he thought was ‘ I am full’ actually he did not know it was the French idiom for ‘I am pregnant’!
All the water is condemned and it is quite flat around here. I said at lunch I had not seen any running water at all. Harold Kidd said there must be a cistern in the room above as he heard water running for filling a cistern for about 5 minutes. When I told him Madam slept just above us, he coloured and the Padre laughed so much he could not eat his fromage! Tell Lizabeth I will write a letter in French to her when I have some time. My writing paper is in the 1st box I sent and I will not get it until we move up to where Geoffrey Dixon is. I hope you got my letter posted by Godfrey Bolsover – my surmise is going to be about correct. I will not be able to write again until about Wednesday.
We are having very good food at this local pub – something similar to Kings Head, Newton and right on a main road. Mademoiselle has not served frogs since her grandmother died. We hear the bullfrogs croaking at night and men say they have rats also at night to keep them company. We had a church parade this morning near the Chateau where the local Mayor lives. It is a delightful place and Rex and one or two more have been billeted there. The place is so well kept and when Rex came out with his light breeches and leggings and his long stalking stick – he certainly looked the part. The parade was in the orchard – Lord Downe also attended the service. There are lots of orchards in this district and all in full blossom and they look very attractive. It is just like summer and it was brilliantly hot yesterday – my cold has completely disappeared now.
We have a tip-top meal in the town every night and officially had the Mayor and Mayoress to dine with us. We did quite a bit of talking in French and in return six were asked to dine with them last night. They had nine courses and an equal number of different wines – I was not one of the party as I am not very fluent in French!
Did you go to Stockton races yesterday? I hope you did and made a bit of money I have not heard any racing news since leaving England. It seems a longish time but I am treating this as my summer holiday and intend enjoying myself. I suppose you will have been to have photos taken – send me one out as soon as they are ready. Today will be your last day for the car – have you used all the petrol up? I hope you did not run it so close as to push the car home! Give my love to your Mother and Lizabeth and a bit kiss for Jill – and lots for yourself. Yours ever, Leslie.
1 May 1940
I am sitting in a tent with Harold Kidd writing with the aid of a candle in a bottle and a hurricane lamp. It is 10 p.m. and we both felt we would like to drop a line to our wives. I certainly would love to have you here. I must just live on happy memories for some time. The rain has just started. After dinner tonight the Padre and I went for a walk right up on to our area and it began to thunder and lighten -it was a glorious sight. We ran and just beat the rain by the skin of our teeth and it is pattering away for all it is worth on the tent. We have got our tent frightfully comfortable – even boot rests. A shaving shelf is fixed on the tree and a large mirror above. The country all round is just like summer – cowslips reminded me of your writing to me many years ago from Holloway – I think. The poplar trees are shady and the corn is growing and everything is peaceful and quiet.
We are all rested again after a night of travelling – my mother usually is about ½ an hour before a train time but the whole Battalion was 5 hours before the train arrived! However time does not seem to matter and we have the utmost difficulty in remembering the day or the date. It will be much worse as we are to work Sundays like an ordinary day.
I suppose my figure will be so elegant that you will envy my waist when we meet again. My girth is no less at present. If I get too thin, I am afraid Jill won’t know her ‘Dada’ and will probably be too shy even to give me a slap on the face.
How are things going at home? I should just love to get into the car and peep in and see how you all are. Most of the men are looking forward to a mail from home – no one has had a letter yet. I should think I have read about 500 letters since coming to France – it becomes quite boring and takes lots of time. We were all very sorry to leave our little pub by the way side. Madam cried when we left and several of the young officers kissed Lu-Lu our vivacious young, French girl on both cheeks. Harold Kidd thought face in French would be cheeks and asked if he might be permitted to kiss her on both cheeks – the situation became rather embarrassing as face means bottom!
The new camp is about 2 miles from a small village and the Padre had to go a considerable distance by car into a town to buy lots of things for our mess. We are all together now.
It is my Father’s birthday on May 4th so I must drop a line to him. I got the Evening Gazette for Friday and noticed a report of his sale at Gerrick. It was quite refreshing to read about home news – the men were very pleased to read it too.
Yours with a big hug and squeeze,
PS Tell my Father and Mother the contents of this letter, as I may not have time to write tomorrow.
Letters containing private matters did not have to be censored by the Officers.
Type of envelope used for the war letters. Stamped by the censor
Letters from France – Contd
British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.)