Major Leslie Petch - War letters and diary from Dunkirk - 4 of 6
May 11 1940
I sent you a p.c. this morning to say I was well and going on well as now that the war has started properly I thought you might be anxious. No one knows but I think the general opinion is that the hotter it gets the sooner it will be over. I thought of your recitation of Henry V ‘Gentlemen in England now abed’ etc and felt quite bucked to be in France yesterday when we are facing a most critical time in our history. 5 a.m reveille on a Sunday morning and a hard day’s work in front, keeps your figure right.
May 13 - Sunday evening.
I am sorry I was unable to finish your letters on Friday, but I have had several interruptions and there has not been an opportunity until 7 p.m tonight. We are all getting used to little sleep and lots of work – I am sorry my letters may be a bit thin of news but if only I could write a bit more of our doings – it would nearly be as good as reading some of your books from Boots Library. Am sorry about your Mother’s cold – is it real or just an excuse for the medicine which you take now at 16/6d a bottle!
It looks as if there will be no more racing for you for a bit – I am glad you insisted on the sand bags. Don’t let the raids worry you too much – you can take it from me they are not too bad. My Mother tells me that Jill is looking particularly well and was admired on Sunday – wish I could have had a weekend with you this Whitsun. I see today that it is a working day – it certainly is here! Just going to change for dinner.
Heh! I object to the phrase of ‘sick of reading’ – it is the mail we all look forward to! Those who receive a letter, treasure it more than £1 notes! Harold Kidd has just shown me snaps he has received today of the 10 m.o they are very good. I am longing for Baba’s photos and yours.
I see quite a lot of Lord Downe – he is very well. In fact we all look marvellously fit and are quite brown. Some of the Officers are growing moustaches – I still have razor blades for my top lip! I hear Ken Steele is still in hospital and may go into the pool and not rejoin the Division.
I do hope you keep yourself fit - it will be lonely for you losing both Liz and I from the ration table – but no doubt you will be saving lots of money! Did Liz get the handkerchiefs and my letter in French?
Letters from France – BEF Contd
Post Dunkirk ...
Note: This was the last letter on record before hostilities really began. The next pages deal with Major Petch's notes after Dunkirk was all over.
[This next letter would be after the evacuation from Dunkirk on 31 May]
June 2nd 1940, Sunday – The Bradley Lines, Hereford.
It was glorious to be able to ring you up and hear your voice again after about 3 weeks of the hardest time of my life. I intend this afternoon to write a diary of our movements and a few of our experiences; but for the present I have half an hour before I am going to St. Martin’s Church, Hereford to thank God for our safe return. It is expected that as soon as we sort ourselves out we go on leave for a few days until the Divisions reform.
The Battalion has been split up and several casualties have occurred. John Harrison – from Nunthorpe was the first Officer to be killed at Gravelines where we knew that at least 15 men were killed. There were about other 50 which we have never heard of since May 24th. They include Harold Kidd, Peter Forster, John Middleditch another Company Commander was wounded and we now have lost Bill Richards. We still hope Harold Kidd and Peter Forster etc might turn up although it is only a slender hope now. Peter Forster’s brother in the 4th Battalion was also killed and I hear Colonel Litteboy is missing. Lord Downe left us for England in the midst of our activities about the 21st May!
Among the things I have lost include 6lb in weight, every bit of my kit and uniform except my shaving kit and towel! I only have left what I stand in – breeches, leggings , battledress tunic and mackintosh! Nearly every officer in the battalion is the same. I saw Barry Linton under immensely interesting circumstances! We were rushed up to the Canal du Nord to protect a bridge – I went forward to see who occupied it and there was Barry preparing to blow it up! His man told me afterwards he had fainted that evening and cracked his skull and was in Arras hospital the day before the Germans occupied the town. I don’t know any more. I am simply longing to see you and be with you again. I will wire immediately I have news. [End of letter]