15 Jun Countdown to D Day, V-MAIL Letters 3, 4, and 6
So many people have been touched by the posting of my Dad’s letters from the War, that I’m committed to continue scanning, transcribing and posting them. It will be interesting to see what evolves from this project. These three letters were written after he had arrived on British soil, preparing for D Day. Here is a synopsis of what’s occurring during this time period from the D-Day museum:
“15 May: The final briefing for Allied senior officers takes place at St Paul’s School, London. It is attended by King George VI and Prime Minister Winston Churchill.”
By now, the troops that will land in Normandy on D-Day and immediately afterwards are in camps all along the south coast of England. Before the end of May, the troops are sealed in the camps, to guard the secret that the landings are imminent. Vehicles and other equipment are waterproofed, to ensure that they can wade through deep water when landing on the beaches. In the last days of May, the troops are briefed on their tasks for D-Day. The majority still do not know exactly where the landings will take place, however.
“31 May: The first troops begin to load onto the ships and landing craft that will take them to Normandy. The size of the landing force means that the embarkation process is spread over five days.”
The dates of these V-MAIL letters are May 26, May 27, and May 31, 1944. And for those of you, like myself, who had never heard of V-Mail, this from Wikipedia:
“V-mail, short for Victory Mail, is a hybrid mail process used during the Second World War in America as the primary and secure method to correspond with soldiers stationed abroad. To reduce the logistics of transferring an original letter across the military postal system, a V-mail letter would be censored, copied to film, and printed back to paper upon arrival at its destination.
V-mail correspondence was issued in on small letter sheets, (7 by 9 1/8 in.), that would go through mail censors before being photographed and transported as thumbnail-sized image in negative microfilm. Upon arrival to their destination, the negatives would be blown up to 60% their original size (4 ¼ in. by 5 3/16 in.) and printed.”
According to the National Postal Museum,
“V-mail ensured that thousands of tons of shipping space could be reserved for war materials. The 37 mail bags required to carry 150,000 one-page letters could be replaced by a single mail sack. The weight of that same amount of mail was reduced dramatically from 2,575 pounds to a mere 45.”
This saved considerable weight and bulk in a time in which both were hard to manage in a theatre of the war.
6 May 1944
Letter #3 2 (signed by censor above the letter)
Hey – here I am on terra firma – somewhere in England – in a very nice camp – considering – and bing, already a private. The new C.O. here, a Capt. and very nice guy, is extremely irked that they should even (at Reynolds) have intimated that we might keep the stripes. Aside from the money, however, I don’t mind. I learned a lot, and the extra work & lack of sleep won’t hurt. In the end it may help.
We finally get our stuff all together and struggled off the boat with the extra loot (in the way of candy, cigarettes & razor blades) we picked up. Some guys had as much as 12 or 15 cartons of candy (72 cents box of 24 bars – cigarettes at 45 cents carton – etc – prices same here in camp, but it’s rationed; 1 pack cigs per day, 3 bars candy per week, and 2 razor blades a wk.) I brought 3 cartons of candy & same of cigs. National pastime seems to be giving out candy to the kids here, as its practically negligible otherwise. We got onto the coaches (compartment for 8 men) with the funny little engines, laughter at the tiny little “goods wagons” (freight cars) and rambled out to our camp. The first thing you notice about the country is it’s neat. No weeks or junk along or even bits of paper along the R.R. tracks or anywhere. Every inch of ground is used for victory gardens. People don’t wave at us on the train – they make the V sign, or thumbs up. NO civilian cars on the road, just bicycles – but very few people, strangely enough. Country reminds you of around Boston – I mean the tolls, hills and winding litle roads. If I have to be away from you, darling – I’m happy to be here.
All my love,
Rollin (LETTER #3)
27 May 1944 V-Mail
Happy Birthday, sweetheart! Golly, but I’d like to give you a big kiss for a present, but I’m afraid that all my love is all I can send you. We’ll get our money today (U.S. money isn’t even good for blowing your nose on here – even in our own PX’s) and we get our first passes (crossed out – by censor? wondering) tomorrow. We plan to go in to a little pub and have a “bitter” or ale – maybe both! Last night one of the older fellows here loaned us a couple of “bob” and six of us went into the “NARFI” (which we call “naffy” – it’s a British U.S.O. idea, run by civilians for Navy, Army, and Air Force personnel. The “I” stands for Institute – don’t ask me why) and got tea and a big hunk of choc. cake for the equivalent of 33 cents, or as the girl said “one & 8 please” (one shilling and eight pense) for the whole works! No wonder the British pay is low. Did I tell you we’re living in the little steel huts? (like you see in pictures of troops in Ireland) Have latrines “for Sgts & E.M.s” (enlisted men) with hot water. Understand we’re very lucky, as lots of camps don’t have either. We eat out of our mess kits, cafeteria style – same as last few camps. And the food is very good. TOMATO juice for breakfast every morning! (of course, you drink it fast, in the line as you’re getting the rest of your breakfast – otherwise they pour the coffee right into the cup with it!) It’s a beautiful day, darling. How I wish you & Karen & I could wander off into this lovely countryside for a picnic!!! Be a good girl – Happy birthday, again – I love you
31 May 1944
We remind me of W.C. Field’s story of dragging his canoe behind him – except our canoe is a barracks bag. This is the third camp we’ve hit, and that ol’ bag is becoming quite a bore. The one redeeming feature is that we’re seeing a good bit of the country, and find it very interesting. I didn’t know that every kind of building over here is brick, or stone, for instance. Have only seen about two or three frame bldgs since I’m here. And many of the country places have thatched roofs, which is new to me. Our last camp was a killer. We arrived late at night and they didn’t even know we were coming. By the time we finally got bunks, were practically hysterical from answering roll call. Before we got on the trucks they called roll. When we got off they called roll. We carted our bags about a block to the Co. area and they called roll. Then we were put in barracks – again! Well, it’s the Army – and that’s the worst should happen to us. Last night I was a big shot (BTO, or big time operator, as we say). Took the 1st sgt and another guy to the NAAFI and bought us each 2 glasses of “mineral” (soft drink of some kind) and a huge plate of “trifle” (bread pudding) for two shillings – 40 cents. I don’t think I’ve spent more than about six bucks since we sailed – including #3.75 for the stuff I got on the boat – which I’m still toting in the ol’ bag! Any little pkge of cookies or such like that would go with tea would be nice to have a little later on. So far we’ve received no mail – but that’s understandable. I love ya, don’t I?