24th July 1940
To my wife, London, 24th July 1940 – It was reading the story in the ‘Readers Digest’, July 1940, “A Little at a Time” by John Erskine, that I decided to write this book. Since my arrival in England, several of my friends have started (and some continued with) a diary.
I disembarked in Falmouth 19th June 1940, covered in a blanket and shoeless. I was taken by ambulance to a nearby camp, where I was able to take a shower and lose my watch. Then came a coach journey, a magnificent trip in the English countryside, to Plymouth RAF Station where I met with several of my squadron companions in the Sergeant’s mess. I was met with open arms, cries and lots of beer.
Next morning, in ill-fitting uniform, I left for London and arrived at my parents on the evening of 20th June 194, my birthday.
Both parents crying, as they had no news for several days, whilst the evacuation was taking place. I was listed missing and have had a lot of trouble establishing my credentials at the finance department of the ministry.
A few days holiday. Visits to the French Consulate in order to get news of France. Upon arriving there, I met three Polish women speaking fluent French, but no English. They had all arrived from Dunkirk, having lost everything, apart from their stories about the evacuation. And what stories! Bombed, machine gunned and this and that. Went for tea at Lyon, Piccadilly and talked about France, Poland and Old England. I left, forgetting to pay and was grabbed by the till woman. Never laughed so much!
Holidays over, I went to Gatwick to find the rest of my squadron and prepare for departure to Iceland. Just hours before we had to leave, order came for me to go to Gloucester. At Gatwick we slept in a corner, without tents, beds or ground sheets, but with two blankets (and this for three weeks!) but this is war. At Gloucester, meet about another 35 interpreters, and our quarters were the most fun in a camp of about 6000 men.
Despite our hardship and boredom, our moral in general is good. The countryside is glorious, the English are happy and the war is secondary to them. The bombs may fall, but the English play football without noticing and only go and check after the match if their houses are still standing. Several of us got sent to other air stations. I travel a lot from one end of England to the other.
Small holiday in London, my luck to be in the middle of an air raid. The battle of Britain is at its height, and since then I never missed a major bombing of the capital. But it is war and the English don’t care. They rely on themselves, “OK, three bombs in my garden, soon it will be nine bombs in a German garden” and I now agree with them. Even beaten, the English don’t know it, and with this mentality they never will be. It’s simple, but you had to think it up.
Maurice Southgate’s words
Translated by Parade Antiques