Thursday, January 20, 2011

A blog from World War 2

For the past week I've been reading through a box of letters written by my father to my mother in 1945. Having spent a month or so in Glasgow on the first home leave in three years, he was posted to an RAF base in deepest Essex. From there he at first expected to be sent to Northern Europe - he was a cipher officer - but as the weeks went by he settled into a life of excruciating boredom, in which the hight points were the many letters he received from home and the weekly attempt at making a phone call to his wife.

During that period he must have written on average three letters per week, in tiny handwriting on miserable paper. Often delivery was held up, so that whole bundles of letters would arrive together - though this seems to have been more of a problem with letters from Essex. When it came to the Sunday evening phone call, he might have to book a slot 3 hours in advance, and then have to endure a bad line or an interrupted connection - a far cry from the instant communication we take for granted now. Nine months of these letters survive, with gaps; they end when he left for home to attend the birth of his first child: me.

The letters fall into three sections - the personal, obviously, much of which I have edited out; the literary, mainly dealing with the books he devoured as his main source of entertainment; and the political, as he comments on the progress of the war, the likelihood of demobilisation and the attitudes of his fellow-officers. Every now and again there is the casual mention of something huge, historically speaking, but they are fascinating primarily as an insight into our recent past.

You can find the letters, as well as photos from the desert war, on the blog Letters from the past.

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