Friday, October 2, 2009

Letter 135- October 18, 1944

October 18, 1944

Dear Mudder and Dad,

Today we had some more unusual weather—it rained; unusual for anyplace but England. I’m beginning to get that old water logged feeling.

I was telling you about my trip to London wasn’t I? Well I got up about 7:30 the next morning and went down to breakfast. Funny thing about European elevators or lifts as they call them over here. They take you up but you have to walk down. Anyhoo, they weren’t ready to serve so I decided to go out and buy a newspaper. It was Sunday so the streets were plenty dead at that time in the morning. I no more than got out the door, however, than I was mobbed by 3 bozos selling medals, ribbons and various other uniform decorations. I’m entitled to wear an E.T.O. ribbon and a good conduct ribbon but I wasn’t going to let those birds soak me 3 times what they were worth. Not all Yanks are dumbells and not all Yanks are millionaires. It was a nice day oddly enough—sunny with just a trace of haze so after I bought my paper I started to walk down Knightsbridge toward the center of town. I didn’t go far for fear of being lost, and anyway I didn’t have long until breakfast. As I went into the dining room I noticed that there was a tour of London to start about 9:45. We had potatoes and bacon, bread and butter, and some really good black coffee for breakfast. After that I sat in the lounge reading and listening to the American Armed Forces Network broadcast until time for the tour. Most clubs conduct “taxi tours”, but ours was a free tour à la “Shanks mare.” It doesn’t sound so good but it was swell. We had an old retired English major for a guide. He was a typical Col. Blimp but without the walrus moustache. You know, striped pants, gray spats, homburg hat, all the appearances of a conservative gentleman slightly run down at the heels.

Well, we started off—about 15 of us down Knightsbridge toward Piccadilly Circus. The old boy turned out to be quite a card and he turned out to be a damn good guide. He pointed out some of the clubs the old French Embassy and some of the homes of the nobility and royalty—From the outside they looked like nothing at all. Next we went through Hyde Park and to Wellington’s monument. Not much interesting there except the World War artillery monument which is an almost exact replica of a huge field piece in stone. The statues around it were all sandbagged. From there we passed the Palace Guarders. Although the fence is gone they still lock the gate every night at 12:00. British tradition. Phfft! We then walked around Buckingham Palace. It does look like Grand Central Station. The old boy explained the changing of the guard. They still change the guard—no fancy uniforms though (not Sunday). They’re not supposed to change it at all but they figured that they ought to put on some show for visiting G.I.’s so I imagine the guards who have to do the parading love us for it. They hate us anyway so what’s the difference? From there we went to Trafalgar Square. Everything Canadian in Britain, banks, etc. stands on one corner of that square. I noticed George Washington, a gift of Virginia on another corner. I’ll bet they appreciated that. Then we started down Whitehall where we saw the various gov’t. office, war office, Scotland Yard, etc.—No. 10 Downing St., the Monument to World War I’s unknown British soldier and down to the Houses of Parliament and the Abby. I also saw St. James Palace, which looked like Lincoln heights Vail, I believe. Those palaces are the least impressive things of all. I’ll show more details in my next letter. Gotta take a bath now.

Best Love,


  1. That's quite a hike if you are familiar with London. But Bill, as were most GIs, was in excellent physical shape. For all the criticisms of U.S. Army training all agreed that the men who went into combat were in a high state of condition.

    I don't think the changing of the guard at the palace was intended for the American soldiers. The British maintained the tradition throughout the war as a tribute to tradition and normalcy. Like the stories of British soldiers stopping at four every day to brew up tea.

    Bill is indeed a keen observer. Despite the crowding of wartime London he seems to have found a comfortable lodging with an adequate table. The British endured food rationing until the early 1950s so there weren't any eggs or milk for breakfast. They probably had plenty back at the base.

  2. After the war, according to Steven E. Ambrose in "Citizen Soldiers", in a survey of combat veterans the concensus was that the training should be tougher, with more live ammunition, and that the best way to prepare a soldier for combat was to improve his stamina and physical strength.

    It appears that the American Red Cross took good care of American G.I.s who were visiting London. Bill gets an excellent breakfast. He seems to particularly relish the "really good black coffee."


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