News from the Eighth Army, 1942
When Jane was sorting through some old photographs, she came across a wartime ‘forces airmail letter form’ from her father to his mother, and copied it out. At the time her father, Fred Cornwell, was somewhere in the Middle East. He had just been in action at the battle of El Alamein, which had ended on 4 November, barely a fortnight earlier, and was getting over diphtheria. It’s interesting that in the middle of war and battles and serious illness, he could still see this completely different world as a greengrocer with a stall in Brixton Market from which he went to fight in the 8th Army, and to which he returned after the war.
19 November 1942
6105756 Pte Cornwell F.
16 Platoon ‘D’ Coy
1/6 Queen’s Royal regiment
Middle East Forces
Once more I am writing to you from the Convalescent Camp but I am certainly feeling a lot fitter than I did, in fact getting slowly back to normal again. The time is passing quicker now than it did because I do a few odd jobs now, so it helps to make you fitter again. I suppose the cold weather is well in now at home. It is still fairly warm here during the day, but cold, very cold in the mornings and during the night. We had about three days of rain over the week-end and it certainly does rain and the huts cannot keep it out altogether. I had a couple of airgraphs and three letters from Margaret [Fred’s wife] yesterday, and by the dates there is a few more drifting about somewhere but I hope they catch me up in time. In fact they are pretty sure to, it only means waiting for them. The oranges are getting more plentiful now and we buy them, about halfpenny each, tangerines 2 for tuppence halfpenny. Potatoes are scarce here and I think they are worth about 1 and 6 a lb. in the towns, so I presume fruit is more profitable here than veg. The only veg we seem to get a lot of is pumpkin, and that is served to us every dinner time. Uncle Dodger had better send his pumpkins over here (he sometimes sells them doesn’t he?) I’m not stuck on them at all so I don’t have any. Hope to receive a few letters from you all at home, you may be sure they are welcome and looked forward to. The war news is more of a tonic now don’t you think. Well mother I must close now, remember me to all at home. Take care of yourself. God bless you.
Best of love,
The letter is beautifully written and easily legible even though in a sharply down-sized photocopy, the form in which it was received in Brixton, London SW9. Jane has similar letters to her own mother (Fred’s wife), and to herself (his daughter). Fred ended the war as a Sergeant, and was demobbed in April 1946, a year after the end of the war in Europe. After he got home he rarely spoke of his war-time experiences in the desert and in Palestine. He was a voracious reader.