A transcription of a letter my grandfather Ashley Smith (author)wrote my grandmother on 5 May 1945 — two days after this letter. I believe he is based close to Rome, Italy, and writing to her in England (Olive Avenue, Leigh-On-Sea, SS9 3QE)
Please feel free to correct me, or add to my understanding of this.
WO I A Smith 10673705 34 Special Training Barracks CMF 5 May 45
Dearest sweetheart in all the world,
This wicked husband of yours is still trying to catch up with all your lovely letters. There is so much happening that I can hardly keep pace with all the developments. This morning a million men have surrendered to Field Marshall Montgomery, and you can imagine how I am asked everywhere I go how the war is going and when I expect it to finish. Strangely enough for the past four or five months I have been giving the month and even the day — the 11th of May — it doesn’t look as If I’m going to be very far out and — not for the first time — the chaps are beginning to look on me as something of a prophet. But I still can’t realise that we are so near the end. I shall not be able so to do until the end actually comes — and then what a grief it will be to me that I shall be away from you — it seems to me impossible to feel anything or understand anything while I am living this unnatural life away from you — that is why I am so glad that my book ‘You Forget so Quickly’ is being published shortly — that has all the feeling of peace in it more truly than anything that I could write today — I have thought and thought of writing a similar kind of book dealing with the declaration of peace — but somehow the feeling is simply not there — the feeling in me is so blunted and stifled after all these years — you will have to coax it gradually back again. Oh — it will be lovely lovely lovely — to live in a world at peace without all these horrors that we have seen and heard about — but I simply cannot realise what it will be like at the moment — and that is a mood shared by everyone out here. The news of the surrender of the Italian armies for instance was received absolutely without any demonstration of any kind — does that seem incredible to you? But it is true — there is a sense of relief — but it is a deep quiet sense that is not finding any noisy expression at all. I suppose there will be tremendous demonstrations in England when peace comes but I don’t expect them out here — yet I may be wrong — there are of course all kinds of official preparations for it.
But what may interest you even more than this is something personal — and that is that I am the little bright eyed boy of local education again (It may have been mostly my imagination that I was having some dark days and anyway I do know I worry too much about those things ) But now I came completely back in favour — with my officer fawning around almost -telling me what a fine fellow I am. All this arose I think from the fact that I have volunteered to help in a new scheme that is being started to assist would be artists and writers. I wrote up my qualifications and sent in a personal letter offering to criticise any short stories that were submitted and my offer was accepted with great gratitude! I have my first short story to be criticised here on my desk — it is a lousy story and I shall say so! But all the same I shall give a little encouragement as the fellow has a certain amount of talent — but not much — and he is supposed to be one of the more hopeful of the would be writers too!
I haven’t been giving you a day to day account of my activities because I have been so busy that I have hardly stirred out of barracks and have even been missing my lovely walks in the countryside around. Yesterday I did have a little excursion though. I was sent for urgently as the only fellow who could speak Italian in barracks. WHY? Because some wine was needed urgently and the mess didn’t have the money to pay for it — I had the job of negotiating for some — a hundred and fifty pounds worth which we expect to get rid of in a single night! — at a dance we are holling. Off we went to Rome and the business was satisfactorily arranged. I enjoyed riding through the streets of Rome only in my shirt sleeves which is the order wel wear in barracks — shirt sleeve order — as I suppose you have seen the soldiers in Suthen (might be Southend-on Sea near where Norah lived) on a sunny day doing.
I have been asking about the boat idea — apparently the best thing to do is to get a cabin cruiser — that is about 48 fest in length. I have asked what the possibilities of getting these type of boats is and am told they will be pretty good but that we may have to wait for some time.
And now there is something else I want to ask you — what shall I do if I get asked if I will volunteer to stay on in the army past my age and length of service release group — until general demobilisation? My impulse is to say yes. First of all I don’t think that I could settle down while there are still numbers of men mobilised. Secondly all my plans are for a world where one can move about freely and none of this will be possible until the armies are generally demobilised. Thirdly I am now earning a very good salary — and the longer I am in the more I shall be able to save — although living here at the moment is so high that I can save very little at the moment — but I hope all that will be changed. Above all I do want you to share some of my army life — I do want you to walk about on the arm of a RSM! — and if you could possible come out here then I could save money like billy-ho (Note: an unimaginably large amount) and beside give you the chance of some of that travel for which your soul yearns. My group is not yet being asked whether it will like to stay on — all men in group twenty six are being so asked. But my time will come very shortly — what is your attitude towards that? It doesn’t mean any longer separation. I wouldn’t do anything that will meant that — not if I were offered a colonelcy (Note: the position or rank of colonel) — for the sake of being away from your for a further fortnight! Not — I think it would only be looking at the matter realistically — my gratuities and everything else — leave money etc would all be increased and it would mean that our future would be absolutely secure (It seems to me that that is so even at the moment — certainly I cannot see myself going back to the office even now — I have reckoned up all my accounts and they come to something like four hundred pounds — that is provided I get a hundred pounds from the book — which is certain — and also save a hundred pounds of my own — (About the draft for forty five pounds I asked for it to be sent off — and it should have got to you — but if it doesn’t arrive within the next week or two I can make arrangements for it to be restored to my pay book (Note: an individual pay record of a member of the armed forces) — as it is known that these drafts sometimes go astray — so give it another fortnight and then write to me again.
I feel very lost without the ribbon in my typewriter. I have to keep on writing on a carbon and can’t see what I am doing. I used to love to watch the sentences appearing under my hopping fingers! I must try to get to town today and get some ribbon — not as Michael (is this a reference to my dad singing ‘Oh Dear What Can the Matter Be nursery rhyme?) would say for your bonny brown hair — but for my machine.
Did I tell you that I have also been down to the Officers shop? — which I am now allowed to patronise! I bought myself a lovely pair of brown Lotus shoes — for about twenty five shillings — and a pair of pyjamas — and some socks and a tie and some lovely vests. I was also very tempted to buy myself a Trench coat which I am now allowed to wear — but I don’t want to lead myself up too much for my journey home and I will be able to buy these things when I get back to England. Or should I take the opportunity of doing so now — I am allowed to buy one trench coat. one macintosh or one great coat per year — Have you got any preference — the great coats of course are marvellous things worth more than the money one pays for them — but its the trench coat which has my fancy — Do let me know which you would like — all of them are much cheaper than you could buy them in civvy street (Note: civilian life street — ex-service people starting life on Civvy Street). It isn’t such an expensive life being an officer as is sometimes pretended.
(Note from research.
Macintosh Coat a straight up and down waterproof jacket,
Trench Coat a bit smarter, belted and may or may not be waterproof, made of cotton and lighter so for warmer climate‘s (Africa Southern Europe).
Great Coat a thicker winter coat often made of wool — also smart and often worn over suits, designed for cold climates ( i.e. northern front in WW1))
I mustn’t write any more real or my letter won’t go by air! — and all my thoughts and longings for you always have wings.
All my love sweetheart over and over and over and over and over again
Your loving husband