My Dear Bessie

A selection of the letters


London

6 December 1944

Dearest,

So very worried about what is happening in Greece. On the news tonight, it spoke of it spreading and seems to have become a battle, my worst suspicions of what the British Army went to Greece for are fulfilled. I don’t know how this is affecting you and whether the ordinary people are involved. Of course you won’t be able to tell me much, I can only just hope for your safety. Your safety – oh Darling! The trouble seems to be centred in Athens, and you spoke of visiting it, so I presume you aren’t billeted there. We should have them to settle their own troubles. We will regain the name of perfidious Albion again before this war is through.

Darling, I have no complaints about your letters, I am too happy that it is my body that you want, that occupies your thoughts. If you didn’t write and tell me these things, I should suspect you of being interested in somebody else’s body; you keep concentrating on mine, my breasts, my vital vibrant spot, my hands and my desires. You are mine, mine, mine, and don’t you forget it, don’t you ever forget it. I don’t understand what the greater significance of a Greek engagement is, but ours has the greatest significance for me, no Greek one could be greater, you are mine, MINE, MINE – to have and to hold until death do us part. You are my husband to be, my glory, my heaven, my hell, we will ride this life together, if you were here now I’d bust your braces, you tantalising lover, Greek engagements! Greater significance! POOH!!!!

Well, I am glad you have 4 blankets to keep you warm, if I was there you wouldn’t want any, you’d be hot enough. Here am I, a blooming iceberg of a maiden waiting to be roused into a fire, not just melted but changed into a fire, and there are you, miles and miles away, needing an extra blanket.

During this last month I have reached rock bottom, I now feel something like a convalescent – no longer need a nurse, Christopher, I need the whole vital man in you, your strength, your energy, when, when, when will you make me a whole woman, when will I be done with this frustration, when? Stunted growth, that’s what I am suffering from! My body is stunted, my affections are stunted, even my blooming mind suffers from this incompleteness. I want to be your mistress, to be used to the uttermost, I want to fuss you, look after you, I want to be your companion in arms – away with depressions, fed-upness, waiting. Angel, I want to feel human, I am so sick of being a cold, haughty virgin. Crikey, talk about untapped resources. Why did I have to find the man of my life in the middle of a blooming desert, who then goes on a Cook’s tour and then gets himself into a hot spot of trouble. Oh Christopher, I do hope you’ll be alright.

‘My apprenticeship’ – books, books, books, I am sick of those too; I want to live, live with you, oh! Why couldn’t you have come home instead of going to Greece, why can’t I come out to Greece, so that I could stand in the way of any stray bullets.

Write poetry to me Chris? You have already written poetry to me, music as well, I doubt whether you could surpass it, it isn’t easy to express these things in words, but you have done it, you have moved me, right down, down to the foundations, you have accomplished what I shouldn’t have thought was possible, you have opened a vision of a new world, a new experience for me, I cannot help but be so very very grateful to you. With that in front of me, I can overcome my black moods and rise up again and know that this life is worth the living. Oh Christopher I do adore you so.

Pancakes, yes we had your lemons with them, that was why I made them. I rather think your lemons helped to get rid of my cold, maybe your letters as well. All those things help, you know, the lemons on the practical side, and the letters on the mental side.

Thank you for the sultanas which are on the way, I do feel considered, my thoughtful lover, such a nice sensation. You don’t know what a relief it is to have a pair of slippers, I have been wearing my shoes in the house, it was wretched not having anything to slip my feet in, you know, for when you get out of bed, after a bath, for evenings.

Football – well, I shan’t be able to tell you anything either, I don’t exactly dote on sports, activities of the mind have always appealed to me more, thank goodness I shan’t have to watch you perform on the playing fields, you seem to have plenty of outlets for your energy without that.

I had to giggle about my ‘bravery’ in bombed London. I live here, work here, and there isn’t anything else to do but live here and work here, and like most things up to a point, you get used to it. It’s one’s low resources that one has to be brave about, all one’s usual aches and pains get you down easily, any extra effort tires you out, but as we are all in the same boat, that isn’t so bad as it sounds, it’s communal you know, makes a difference, besides the battle fronts sound so much worse, I concentrate on that when I feel pathetic. I shall be concentrating on Greece, can’t help it, the situation sounds so much worse, the news tonight says civil war.

Darling I love you, love you, so very much.

Bessie

***

8 December 1944

My Darling,

The stop-press of tonight’s evening paper says it is quieter in Athens today, that ELAS have contacted the government today, I hope this is true. It is horribly difficult for us to get at the truth, Churchill calls them rebels trying to enforce a communist dictatorship, but the New Statesman says they represent the people. Whatever has happened, it has caused a shock in this country, but not enough to do any good, Greece will still be ruled from here by Churchill and co. When is Churchill genuine and when is he a humbug – is it necessary for us to enforce order? Feel very unhappy about it, fighting the Greeks sounds too awful, wicked. I hope all is well with you and our Greek friends. You said you were going to give me the family trees of the families you visit.

The weather sounds lovely there, whereas here, well – ! It tried to snow today, horribly cold. I don’t know whether I told you that I bought a pair of lined boots (getting all prepared for the worst). I wore them yesterday and it wasn’t necessary, and didn’t today when it was. What is a girl to do in this climate, had cold feet all day. Very breezy these luxury flats – we have such a palatial entrance hall and carpeted stairs, but inside the flat, it’s bare boards, the lavatory is always going wrong, and the water in the bowl won’t run away – luxury?

Feel very worried about all those depressing letter cards that you are receiving, or are about to receive, my conscience besmites me, I didn’t oughta have done it, I didn’t. I wonder what your receiving mood is like, I do hope it’s full of beans despite all the present trouble.

Our Xmas cake has been taken out of my hands. Iris’s sister Doris is going to make it, she is rather an expert. I had thought my last effort was rather good, I took Iris up a piece and she said so, and she is quite a good critic because she likes cake. Beyond this our interest in Xmas is nil. I am working Xmas day. Xmas is a family time, children’s time, I expect you will enjoy yourself in Greece with your friends’ families, anyway I hope you will be able to.

Am just listening to the 9 o’clock news and it’s most disheartening, it says it’s spreading not slackening. Oh Dear Christopher! I really can’t think of anything else, Darling, I do really want to be cheerful, but it’s so blooming difficult. Xmas! And you out there. I love you, I love you, I love you, and my heart is aching, it is so lonely and desolate without you. My mind keeps going into such flights of fancy on how to get to you, from stowing away on a ship, to applying to the war office, so blooming silly, but it does get so bad sometimes.

I went to see The Circle, John Gielgud’s production, a play by Somerset Maugham, didn’t think much of it, so was glad you couldn’t come. Lil Hale wasn’t very impressed either and she is rather keen on Gielgud’s acting. To me he seemed such a milk and water specimen, no fire, no life in him, just a beautiful voice, too too cultured. I think I have got a bit choosy over the theatre. Have seen some really fine plays during the war. My standard has got a bit high.

I have been horribly chatty in this LC, that’s the result of worrying. I have kinda got you on my mind in a different way, the situation in Greece is getting in my hair, despite all efforts to remain calm. Keep calm is my motto, very tiring you know. But I do wish I knew how things were with you. Keep well, keep safe.

I Love You.

Bessie

***

9 December 1944

My Dearest Angel,

I expect the news of Greece has by now nicely alarmed you, and that you are not without concern for me. I hope you will take this as a token of my continued safety and welfare. I am enduring no hardship or privation, and am subject to very little inconvenience. Later on I shall doubtless be able to tell you something about the present happenings, but for the present you must put 2 and 2 together and – if you are wise – not be too sure that the answer is 4. I listen to the wireless news from London with great interest, and find much food for thought in this whole proceeding. A flickering oil lamp illuminates this page as I write now, for it is night, but when I wrote before, there was a smoke pall over the city and I could hear the ‘PUFF-BOOM, BOOM-PUFF’ of the guns. I should very much like to tell you what I think and know, but this is not possible with me a soldier. Perhaps you will feel aggrieved and misled that I did not tell you this was liable to take place. I could not have done so without breaking the regulations, and in any case, I did not think it would be so soon.

If one approaches things with the idea of learning from them, I cannot say I am sorry to be here. But this is one occasion when it would be far better for you to be elsewhere. But do not think you are out of my thoughts. You can never be that. I decided this afternoon that I had better burn all your letters that I had (my last was 57) and I did so. I dislike burning your letters, but they are so much mine that I always feel it is best.

I was sorry to hear on the wireless (invaluable link with the outside world always) that London had had a brisk time with rockets last night. I hope you are safe and will always remain so. I do not feel very hopeful about an early end now, to Hitler and his works (mostly his works) but I have felt a little happier about the chances of escaping Burma etc, because if they do send ME and CMF [Middle East and Central Mediterranean Force] men home before going to other theatres I should be able to talk a bit when I get to England. By that time, I shall be as bald as makes no difference! I am not too much interested in the thought of getting home, then being sent out again. What I am interested in is getting home, getting out of the Army, marrying you, settling down to a happy, domesticated existence. I want to be with you and stay with you always. I want the warmth and the strength and the beauty of you, and to you I want to bring all my ability to make you and keep you happy. Please do not worry over very few letters.

I love you.

Chris

***

10 December 1944

I had not planned to write to you again so soon, or to hear from you again, but your letter (No. 58) was dropped today, and eagerly I gulped the manna that was in it, quickly I must respond to your apparent need of me.

It is no good me trying to ‘kid’ you that I know very well how Londoners must feel under the swift threats of the rockets. You do know that I went through the blitz in 1940, but this is quite a small thing, a tangible thing, against present horrors. I believe that Zola worked in a coalmine for 6 months to get the atmosphere for his novel Germinal. I should have to hear at least one rocket before it really came home to me that there were such things. Similarly you’d need to live in the desert to understand the actuality of miles and miles of sand. In other words, imagination cannot take us all the way . . . yours, try as it may, cannot conjure up my present situation. You just, rather naturally, suppose the worst.

I do hope that you will not get too, too, too downhearted about your present mode of living. You must always remember that it is the world, and not you, that is wrong and at fault. So when you feel desperately tired and unhappy about bombs, the weather, your colds and other ills, don’t take them as personal deficiencies, remember you are not responsible for them. Try and do as I have told you in the past, what I do, now that I am in the Army. Think about things as little as possible, and remember that no amount of worrying can alter them. The grim happenings here would perhaps have more worried me had I been a civilian in London.

But for us – US, more than anyone – life will be grand in the days to come if we will it so, if we trust. I shall come back to England, an England that I knew and in my fashion loved. (Have you ever been chestnuting at Sunningdale in October or blackberrying at Caterham in September?) And I shall brighten up your scene, I hope, and make you see things in a new and better light, so that we both realise we had not lived till we met, till we loved.

You are a little, I think, unduly anxious about my possible conduct away from you. In the desert there was no temptation and the chaps behaved well. Here, the married men vie with the single men in their enthusiasm for the new life. I can assure you that I have nothing but contempt for those who break pledges, either to their wives or their sweethearts. You are my sweetheart, I am pledged to you. I love you. There is no need for you to worry further. Probably I spend too much time contemplating you, but it is always you that I do contemplate. It is your warm beauty that I want to lie upon, to rub against; between your legs that I want to come. I want to touch you between your legs, I want to feel your hands upon my privates.

Tomorrow it will be lovely, for I will be with you.

I want you. I love you.

Chris

***

11 December 1944

My Dearest Angel,

The shame in my heart for the burning of those letters is burning a hundredfold, I have been in such a state over what is happening in Greece that I had been too worried to dwell upon that. But it has come back in a rush, your words ‘I will love you though you never believe I love you’, ‘I will love you whatever blows you deal me’. Oh gosh! That got me badly, very badly, went much deeper than any censure. Wretched creature that I am, may I try to explain just a little what causes me to hurt you so senselessly, not consciously Chris, no no, not consciously, only the usual fashion of the bull in the china shop with the inside of a fawn.

Dearest Christopher, it is not easy to surrender myself so completely as I am doing, at my age, a much more tender age to be in love than at 20. What I feel for you, Dear One, is love, this is not settling down, getting married, and having children, it’s something so much more, so much bigger. You have caused an upheaval within, an upheaval that contains so much sweetness, ecstasy and pain, something that I didn’t think I was going to know, something that I thought did not exist because I had not known it. It is new to me, you are new to me, I trust myself to you so gingerly, a little afraid of, not you Christopher, but of the unforeseeable. So that I am on the defensive, I let everything go with a rush and then put up a guard to ward off – goodness knows what. I guess it’s the uncertainty of life in London that enhances it, I want to rest with you in peace, but you are so far away.

I just have not known anyone like you before, or perhaps it is no one before has made me want to give so badly, give so badly, so that the giving makes me feel afraid. Darling this is all so hopelessly womanish, I really don’t know whether you can understand the paradox. I do understand your need, because it is my own, but can’t you see how tremulous, how inadequate it makes me feel, because the opposite feelings go together, one doesn’t exist without the other. It’s like touching the stars and touching rock bottom. Darling, understand what after all I do not understand myself.

Rockets? Yes it could be, but it goes much deeper than that. The misery inside me through having to live without your presence, the misery inside me through the spectacle of the world engaged in destroying one another for five years. I suppose it’s linked up with the rockets, but one doesn’t think much about them until they drop, they don’t occupy much of one’s thoughts and imagination, not like the pangs of the world. You and Greece are hopelessly mixed up in my mind, torn all ways. I want the fighting to stop because of you, and yet I wish they could win.

I received the green envelope with the photo, and felt very touched by both your letter and the message on the back of the picture. You Darling man with the Dear bald head. You know it isn’t quite bald yet Ducks, give it time, it will probably last ages like that, afterwards you can train one hair across the top. I’ll look after it and encourage it, and you need never be quite bald.
Will be very glad to have a closer snap of you, always needing to look at you! Would be glad to see photos of the places you’ve seen also.

I shall keep the returned hanky as a hope of the future, our union, our union Christopher, it’s a gasping thought isn’t it.

Goodnight Darling.

I Love You

Bessie

***

12 December 1944

Dearest,

I am particularly happy to get your letters just now, and I hope they’ll come along in double quick time. You mention that you have the ‘jitters’ about the situation here. I wish I was as free as you are to comment. You’ll understand that I am not. But do not worry about me in the slightest. I am quite alright, and sad though it may seem, finding things very interesting.

I may be very wrong, but I do believe that blazing lights and chocolate, ad lib, feature in most people’s post-war imaginations. We should have something more than éclairs, but we should have éclairs, as well. We should enjoy the lights, too. You, more than me, because I have had lights (of Durban, Cairo, Alexandria, Naples, Athens, and many more) for two years. I cannot visualise meeting you when I return and not immediately living with you.

Everything here is very safe, and please don’t think I am in any danger.

I hope that the rockets are not worrying you too much. In the hope that you will get this before Christmas, I will say I trust the weather will be as you want it, and that you have a nice time. Soon we shall have a Christmas together – all our days together. It is a grand thought to have. And wonderfully we share it.

I love you.

Chris

***

14 December 1944

Darling,

Oh Christopher. My dear sweet man, I feel so wretched at having hurt you so, feel all the pain of those unwritten words. You didn’t have to write them Chris, I can feel them. I too have thought a great deal on ‘why did I do it’, honestly searching myself for the reason for that impulsive action. I have really trusted you so much, committed myself on paper to a point of outrage, in a way that isn’t too easy, but you called to the depths of me and I had to answer, I just had to give you all I could in the only way possible, and I did it because all of me responded to you with a force that I wasn’t aware of possessing. That is why I keep telling you of the newness, the wonder of this our meeting, our coming together. You are as precious to me as life itself, for it goes on and on. You move me now as in the beginning, in some ways more, because somehow it seems to have developed, somehow more solid or something, I don’t quite know what, but I feel it.

This has taken such a long time to write, and yet somehow doesn’t say what it should. I long for the words of the poets, for they don’t keep repeating themselves. I feel under the stress of all this, I ought to be as creative as the poets, and put it all in such a new way, to convince you that there is no need for you to feel unhappy about my doubts anymore, not anymore, Christopher, my so precious Lord. Immediate evidence to hand, I did think of the returned handkerchief in the same symbolic way as you, angel, didn’t I? I will hold it, keep it, crush it, and wish you could be as close, wish that I need only feel affectionate and could stretch out my hand to you and you would answer with your caresses over my asking body, wish that you could flood me with your warmth. Oh for the time when I might awaken during the night, hear you breathing beside me, feel the warmth from your body, and snuggle down in sheer happiness and comfort in the knowledge of your presence. Oh delight of tomorrow, when will you come?

The elastic-hum, what do you mean??? says she, coyly. If you were home I’d welcome it, yes I very much suspect I would, before and after wedded bliss, seems to me it would have wear and tear. (I hope.) It’s beautifully strong elastic, should stand up to it well, perhaps we should hoard a supply.

My cooking activities will have to remain rare owing to circumstances. Dad has his dinner midday from Mrs Baker which absorbs our meat ration. Cake making is rare because we drink our sugar ration, even the cooking of snacks isn’t very often because Dad is a bad shopper, and I can’t shop often enough to catch the odds and ends that are to be had on occasions. My diet is a most uninteresting repetition, so that I have become disinterested. I had thought of buying a cookery book, but hadn’t bothered because they are all war time recipes. I hadn’t thought of a second-hand one, though I suspect with the book shortage, second-hand books have done a roaring trade, though maybe second-hand cookery books may not have been touched. I’ll have a look round Charing Cross Rd at the first opportunity. Oh dear I would like to start putting us on the map, to start building our home. I want time, lighting, and no rockets. Perhaps in the spring, I wonder?

This you and I is breathtakingly wonderful, I can rest content in the future prospect. Oh so much more than content, but dash it all Chris, can you really expect happiness in me now? You are my horizon, that wonderful faraway horizon – I cannot be content, I cannot rest easy whilst it is like this. I strain at the leash towards the future, our future, I want you, I want you, I want you, now, now, now. You can tell me to be happy, to be content, to stop going up and down, but I cannot help it, you fill my imagination, but I want you here, in my arms, the flesh and blood. You are right it is bad, bad, bad to be away from each other. I don’t want to differ, I want to bend with you, see things your way, my way is so uncertain. This brings me to Orson Welles, was Citizen Kane just a flash in the pan? Time will tell with his next efforts for his Journey into Fear was not mad, it was just plain silly, kids’ stuff, it made me laugh, and it wasn’t meant to. Anyway perhaps we can see his next effort together, and I can change my mind or agree to differ. See things together!!!!

Don’t get any stockings, please Chris, you’ll probably take awful colours, the wrong size, and probably be swindled as well. If you feel anxious to get me something try hair grips, kirby grips if possible, you know the short metal grips girls use nowadays instead of slides, also a comb would be useful, very hard to get at the moment. Prices here are haywire, fantastic. Will prices remain in this haphazard state? I think not, for it is always shortage that causes it. When things are being manufactured again prices are bound to drop, it is foolish to buy now. As for the stockings, if I get in a really embarrassed state over them, I shall ask you, don’t worry I shall ask. I am still in a repairable condition, which I think will last till the summer, anyway we get some more coupons in February and we have high hopes of them being more than previous years. After all this I see you want me to think up a list, hum, well it just isn’t worth it, unless it’s cheap.

Wish these rockets would pack up. I hope the information of your safety is true. Shall feel much happier if an agreement can be reached.

I Love You.

Bessie