Major Leslie Petch - War letters and war diary from Dunkirk - 3 of 6
May 5 1940
I had a wonderful mail last night – two lovely long letters from you – thank you very much for all the news. I shall be delighted with the photos – it will be some recompense for the long distance you are away from me. There was also my Mother’s Monday letter and one from Godfrey Bolsover saying he had been to the War office and they were deferring the demobilisation order. To add to a very good mail there were 2 Evening Gazettes and Northern Echos. An extra point to cheer me up was an order that I need only go out to the work 2 days out of 3. After lunch today my Sunday’s afternoon nap has been most welcome.
Now with regard to these ‘ere tyres’ Stonehouse has re-rubbered tyres for the Skinningrove Iron Works big car. He has also sent one or two of our big car tyres away to be done and the result is that, provided the canvas is not showing, they can be done well enough and they last equally as long as new tyres. Have a word with Harry Stonehouse’s son I think I would let him come across and examine the tyres and get the car properly shod, as there might be a difficulty in getting them later. You may use our joint account at the National if your private account won't stand it!! I am getting a green envelope for this letter, so I can refer to private family matters and have consequently made a x against the week commencing July 21st as being unsuitable for any leave!
Darling it does seem a long time before we’ll see each other - we will just have to interest ourselves in other things and hope the time passes quickly. I am glad you went to Stockton races and enjoyed yourself – you must go about and as Messrs Stephenson & McKinlay say – look lovely. Don’t do too much spring cleaning and let yourself get run down and depressed. I certainly will look forward to a nice sunny afternoon with you all in the drawing room. Stockton races must have been quite thrilling especially when Rhoderick Dhu won. Did you go to Thirsk?
I think for your own reputation you should dissuade Baba from calling all the British Army Dada! Am glad she is very well, although I can see her inheriting the female weakness of both families for Scarborough and little runs off!
Thank Elizabeth very much indeed for her very newsy letter - I was delighted with it and also the drawings. The bow on Baba’s head is very typical. Tell her I think she is prettier than Shirley (Temple – the film star) and am glad to hear the perm is a great success. Her letter was very interesting and the drawing showed up her perm to great effect.
Rex only heard that his Mother had died yesterday – May 4th although a telegram had been following him round. He heard at Southampton that she had had a stroke and was anxiously awaiting news each day. He tells me she is only 68 although had two operations for cancer some ten years ago. Kenneth Steele went into hospital about a week ago. He got some spots on his arm, which turned septic, and now he has septicaemia or blood poisoning in his system.
I have had a few talks to Lord Downe and tell John Wain I had a chat to Lord Gort the Commander in Chief the other afternoon.
The young fry were given from Saturday noon until Sunday noon leave – they took a car to a fairly large town and stayed the night, dancing etc until 3 a.m. I have not felt like taking my days leave yet!
May 9 1940
Thank you ever so much for your letters of Tuesday and Wednesday last week, please give Baba a big kiss from her Dada for her first letter to me, or rather for the marks on the new note paper. I think your tastes are improving considerably ever since you set your mind on catching me!! – Loud protests I hear! - I like the notepaper.
It is grand to hear Jill is doing so well especially in her French lessons. I am now looking forward to every mail and longing for the photos to arrive. Harold Kidd had a photo sent of his 10 m.o. baby boy and it is now on the bacon box in our tent, which is acting as a chest of drawers. His name is John Michael and he says he can stand alone already.
You apparently have only got my first letter written just after lunch with my Sub-Lieutenants bombarding questions from either side about censoring mail and handing me all the doubtful ones to sign! You are quite wrong about the ‘red wine’ – champagne and white wine are the only ones I have touched!
By the way it was Rex’s birthday yesterday and to cheer us all up, when the working party got into the second dinner about 9 p.m. last night, there was a magnum of champagne for us to drink his health. It is the unanimous decision of men and officers that the girls in this district are very unattractive so as long as I am in camp there will be no counter attractions as regards the fascinating French girls!
Tuesday was my company’s day in camp to do odd jobs, so I took the opportunity to have my first day off. Jacques Leguise, our French Liaison Office, is a real good sport and speaks good English. He and I took the shopping car into the fairly big town and had a most enjoyable day. We bought treacle, honey, marmalade, beer and wines and other provisions for the canteen, Sergeants’ Mess and Officers’ Mess. Chickens at 70frs a piece for our dinner that evening and asparagus and French beans. We visited the N.A.F.F.I. and a large provision shop and after buying shaving mirrors, bulbs for torches and Rex’s hair cream and various other officers’ requirements we retired to the best hotel for a quarter bottle of champagne each - 12 fr. a time.
After just having one we went along to an Officers Mess and had a cheery chat to more English Officers whom Leguise knew. Some had just come back from a race meeting held in France and I was full of questions as to how to wangle it! I saw a few war correspondents but did not recognise any racing reporters! We afterwards retired to a good café and had an excellent lunch – soup, Dover sole, and chicken etc and some Anjou white wine – the total cost was about 50 fr. each. We afterwards went out to a Field Cashier, who is Leguise’s brother-in-law, and had an interesting talk with another Liaison Officer who had just come back from a weekend at a large town in France! Feeling right on top of the world we bought several very comfortable chairs for the Officers’ Mess and returned back to camp for tea.
It was gloriously hot and we were just having tea outside when the Dir. Gen. Herbert and Lord Downe and one or two more came and joined us for tea. My Mother’s cake had arrived but I could not arrange in time to offer some of it to our guests. Her cake is delicious and our little stove works wonders and we enjoy our little picnics.
The letter from Weatherby’s dated April 24th followed me from Middlesbrough and around France and just arrived 2 days ago. I have answered it and regretted etc!
Richard Dorman and I have been having several chats to the old farmer who is working the land within 10 yards of our tent. He is quite interesting and told us all about his farm and cows and horses etc. There are lots of partridges but no game can be shot during wartime. I hope that law does not reach England especially as John Waine is keeping an eye on the seed field! Has Dobson got the tomatoes in yet? I am looking forward to tasting them by the time they are ready, but suppose it depends on Mr. Hitler and how hard we work here. Yes I think I would fix your holidays for the week commencing July 22nd when does Elizabeth break up? You will have to try to fit Sybil in – Tell her I am sorry I shall miss her.
Some of the boys are sending lots of kisses by every letter and telling their girls to count them all up and they will deliver them when they return. Most letters have SWALK (Sealed With A Loving Kiss) and as I am the one that signs them and seals them up I have already sent hundreds of kisses to England. Nevertheless I have a lot left for you…!!
There is a dance in one of the local towns tonight but as Reveille is 5 a.m. and we have to be using our pick and shovel at 7.30 a.m. I don’t propose to go.
Padre sends his kind regards and regrets he cannot send you any Craven A [cigarettes].
Hope you enjoyed your Thirsk trip last Saturday. Scrope who manages the Sledmere stud tells me they had 2 winners, which they bred.
I have sent Liz a postcard.
Yours for always, Leslie.
[Note: The Germans invaded Holland the next day on 10 May 1940 - read on to find out more - also covered in the book of Bill Cheall's war diary]
Letters from France – Contd