1068529 Cpl Porter RG
6616 Servicing Echelon
Royal Air Force
17 May 1945
My Beloved Jane
No mail today again for BLA. Particularly 616 Squadron and myself who has not had one for four days again. I’m looking forward to tomorrow. There absolutely must be some then.
Well darling, as there is no home news to answer I shall start from today and write you a series of letters containing all my travels and experiences since coming over to this side of the world. At long last the censorship regulations have been lifted and I am now at liberty to tell you that I am in Lűbeck, a port on the Baltic Sea about 50 miles east of Hamburg. At least we are about six miles out of the town on a German airfield called Lűbeck-Blankensee.
If you have a map dear and look on the Normandy coast of France, over to this point you will see that I have come a pretty fair distance across four countries.
Well, the narrative starts in Gosport on the 15 August last year when we lined the streets leading to the beach and one by one drove our great heavy wagons up a ramp which was like driving clean up a brick wall onto the landing barge which was to take us on the historic mission. I must say our minds were occupied by a thousand and one conflicting thoughts. German prisoners streamed by from incoming barges and all us filing out the other way, to the unknown.
The journey across was uneventful and calm, I remember little because I slept most of the way until the morning of the 16th when we sighted the coast of France at 6 o’clock in the morning. It was a great thrill to see thousands of our ships lying off enemy territory so calm and unmolested. Then we crash landed with a sickening thud which made the craft shudder and it only remained for us to drive the wagons off. This is easier said than done when you realise that the whole bows of the ship are swung open and a ramp is let down into about five feet of water. It is a matter of sliding down slowly making sure one doesn’t go over the side, a big splash which envelopes everything, and put your foot down hard until you make any land. We disembarked without a casualty and drove in from the Arromanches beaches to a depth of five miles to a place called Cairon on the road to Caen.
I was amazed at the lack of activity that first day on French soil but at night, just so that we would not get a false sense of security, the Hun put on the daddy of all air raids. He threw everything at us but his flying helmets and we replied by chucking everything up at him bar the guns. That was the first of many such nights until the battle for Caen was won and the enemy took such a terrific beating in the Falaise Gap.
During our stay in Normandy we did not see a great deal owing to having a tremendous amount of work to do but I did manage to do a little sightseeing, Bayeux, the capital of the province is noted for its famous cathedral, otherwise the town stinks of bad sanitation like all other French county towns.
Caen had a different stink, the stink of dead and rotting bodies. I first met that distinctive smell there and have smelt it on all too many occasions since. The most noticeable feature about the natives was that they hated the sight of us and definitely resented our presence there. Another feature was the liqueur of the district known as “Calvados”. Three tots of that and you went stark raving mad. It was deadly stuff.
The Normandy battle won we went forward at a cracking pace and getting ourselves mobile again we were told that our next destination would be Lille, which is right across the other side of France and, at the time, was still in enemy hands.
This journey gave us our first taste of what it felt like to be liberators as we passed from Normandy into France proper. The first stop on a four day trip was at Eppreville where we stayed for two days, while the brown jobs chased Jerry further and where we swapped cigarettes for eggs with the delighted locals. From there we moved on another hundred miles to Fallencourt in Pas de Calais, through all the flying bomb sites which we had been dying to see. I must say our bomber boys did a grand job there. I didn’t see one in what could be called working condition.
It was on this trip that we had the unusual and very tricky experience of getting lost and landing ourselves right behind the German lines. Fortunately he was too busy trying to get out himself to show fight so we managed to get back to our proper route without a clash of any kind.
After Fallencourt we came on through Lens and R ??? where our reception was overwhelming. Flowers, peaches, tomatoes and eggs were showered on us from all directions – the eggs were handed up, not thrown. In fact the crowds were so enthusiastic in their welcome that in the towns we were often held up for an hour at a time with no possible road through the jam. Whilst kiddies crawled all over the vehicle into the cabs, with the famous cry of “cigarettes for papa!” – “chocolate for mamma”
It was the thrill of a lifetime and so it was all the way to Lille where we arrived at the beginning of September, the first RAF unit in the town. It is the greatest city in northern France and as you will remember one of the great battle centres of the last war. No sooner had we set up camp then people crowded the gate, showering all and sundry with invitations to their homes and though the poor souls had little in the way of foodstuffs, such was their hospitality and genuine joy to see us that they gladly offered what they had. Wines hidden during the long years of occupation were brought up from cellars and the RAF boys were royally feted wherever they appeared. We gave in return what we could, cigarettes, chocolate and a little soap. Their thanks at receiving such small gifts made you feel as though you were giving the whole world. It was here that I met the family Crombert that I told you about dear, and what a fine family they were. Thought I was the most marvellous man in the world and I couldn’t do a thing wrong. I have often felt a bit rotten about not writing after Alice, the daughter, who can write in English, sent me the snaps that were taken there. She was a bit of alright too – but I was too much in love with my Jane to worry in that direction. In any case, mamma was taking no chances with the Raff around and was never very far away. I think Joe Chamberlain who used to come with me to the cafe fancied his chances but mamma was one too many for him.
The town itself was very fine there being a great many fine churches and imposing buildings. One street in particular had a great attraction for the boys and that was the Rue la ABC in which was situated all the brothels.
I can now describe these to you dear and take pride in the fact that while I went into every one in the street, I yet remained untarnished, faithful and true and only a little disgusted at some of our own bloke’s behaviour. They are all the same actually, shabby little cafes where an old hag sits outside on a chair repeating like a parrot, “pretty girls”, “have a look Tommy”. Once inside you go to the bar and pay three times the price for a glass of beer and the girls parade round in just a blouse and pants putting their arms round everyone’s neck saying – “upstairs Tommy, 50 francs”. They repeat this all round until they find a customer who goes up to the counter, pays 30 francs for the “room” and wheels her off “upstairs”. She gets her 50 francs up there and is down again ready for the next in five minutes. Day after day and week after week, that is their life. How they stand it I cannot tell but I do believe most of them contract disease and die very young. It’s all too cold blooded and commercial for me. I felt more than a little sick after witnessing the same procedure in each of the places and didn’t take the trouble to repeat my visit to these places at any other time.
Think me a bit of a dirty dog darling? On the contrary it has made me appreciate and love you all the more. It has all made me realise how fortunate I was to meet you and kept me on the straight and narrow so that I shall be worthy of such love and devotion. I shall never let you down now darling, not in that respect and I only hope that I never do in any other respect.
Well darling to get back to this autobiography of mine. I’m afraid as time is getting short tonight; I shall have to make it an episode affair to be continued next week and all that sort of stuff. Sufficient to say now that we stayed in Lille for seven weeks and had a really splendid time as far as the civilian population were concerned. The war seemed to have come to one of the pauses caused by rear guard actions and it was the 15 October, I think, when we took a sad farewell of Lille on a fine autumn morning when a weeping population rose at six o’clock in the morning to see us off to Belgium.
More about that another time sweetheart, I must leave you now and pray that I have a letter or two tomorrow just to learn that you still love me as I swear I love you, now and for all time.
Kisses to the boys and God bless darling. I hope you do not get bored by my efforts to interest you, ‘cos I am going to give you more now that censorship has gone.
God bless again darling
Your ever devoted
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