As you have probably noticed by my letter-heading I am not in the
Corps of Signals but in the time honoured brotherhood of the Royal
Artillery, resulting in my being dubbed Gunner instead of
It's a glorious place down here. The castle, as you know, overlooks Dover Harbour and the sea beyond. Well, even as I am lying on my bed writing to you now I can see through the window, Dover Harbour, Dover and the sea, stretching away to a horizon rendered indistinct by a light haze, which I trust augers a fine day tomorrow.
The food tends to be a bit coarse but it is just about eatable.
Apparently I'm to be stationed here for at least five months to undergo an ultra intensive training which includes tuition in the manipulation of motor-bikes, lorries, cars, handling of artillery, etc., all of which are in addition to the Signalling Course.
Naturally, the first enquiry I made was when I could expect a leave! The Bombardier (i.e. Corporal) I asked calmly told me that I wouldn't get one for at least five weeks, Ye Gods! Still, even if he had said I could go on leave next week it would have still seemed an eternity before I saw you again, and since there cannot be a long or short eternity it seems that I am fated to wait an eternity for the sight of you again anyway!
We are due to be issued our uniforms tomorrow.
I was interrupted just now, the fire alarm went. I am posted at
the moment, I should explain, in the Keep. That is the castle proper,
on fire and blackout picket. There are 7 of us and an N.C.O. who are
responsible running a hose and water pump to any fire which chances
to break out in the castle. This particular alarm proved to be a
false one. Thank goodness!
On Friday morning last we were inoculated in our left arm. This gave us a certain amount of pain which is just beginning to wear off. Saturday morning, having received our uniform the previous afternoon, we were marched across Dover to the Garrison Dentist. More pain!
I have had my front teeth stopped and I must say he's made a good job of it, but, ye gods and little fishes, I thought I was tough, but that pain made me sweat and writhe.
Today, Monday, we were taken into the gas chamber with our civilian respirators. Whilst we were in there we received the order "doff gas masks", and, of course, being dutiful servants of King and Country we complied. The result I leave to your imagination!
The ruddy gas tore at our lungs, nose, eyes and skin, to such effect that when someone eventually got the door open, some of us had to be carried out. I was comparatively lucky, I was near the door and shut my eyes as soon as I doffed my mask, but even then I was in agony when I staggered out. Apparently this is part of normal training, but in our case the concentration of gas had been more than trebled. Some blue-pencilled idiot had blundered!
Our normal routine here is to rise at 6.30, breakfast at 7.15, dinner 12.30, tea 5.30, supper 7.15, and lights out 10.30 p.m. We get half-days on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday and a gymnastic half-day on Tuesday. Whilst I'm on this fire picket duty however, I get to bed when I can and rise at 6 a. m.
So while you're lying comfortable in your bed on Wednesday night you can think, gloatingly if you like, of me patrolling the walls of Dover Castle, sometime between 2 and 4 a.m. on blackout duty, endowed with the full powers of a sentry. Actually, I quite enjoy it at the moment, because it's the only time when I'm really alone, and am afforded the opportunity of communion with the stars and memories of you.
I'm beginning to settle down into the life here. Having overcome
the initial home-sickness, I'm actually beginning to enjoy it. There
always seems to be a hell of a lot of cleaning to do, but I'm
starting to get on top of that too.
I saw a convoy pass here the other day. The view that the Castle commands is so large that we could see the whole convoy of 25 ships with it's escort of 4 Destroyers, all at one time. When you think that they are all in single file, with half mile intervals between each ship, you get some idea of the extent of the marvellous vista the Castle commands.
With regard to my uniform. Unfortunately there aren't any full length mirrors in the whole Castle, so I haven't the foggiest idea whether the uniform suits me or not. I have been told, however, that it doesn't look too bad.
Last night, whilst I was on patrol, I heard two or three nightingales, the first time I've ever heard them. The night before last, whilst I was on the 1 a.m.- 2-a.m. patrol a mine exploded at sea. It must have been very close in, for the explosion was something terrific.
As to making friends, there is one fellow in my squad with whom I
seem to find myself more then anyone else. His name is Harry Jung and
he is Korean. His parents left Korea when the Japanese occupied it in
1910, and made their way to England, via Russia. He was born in
England and consequently was rendered liable for military service. He
reads the same type of books as I do and has much the same collection
at home. We are going on a book hunting expedition next week in
Six German planes visited us yesterday. Anti-aircraft batteries opened fire and I could see the shells bursting in the sky. Several pieces of shrapnel fell on a building about 50 yards from where we were standing on the Parade Ground.
The invasion of Belgium and Holland by Germany caused all leave to be stopped, and some of the poor devils had already bought their tickets and were on the platform waiting for the train when their leave was cancelled.
Rifles have just been dished out to us. I think the reason is that
the colonel is getting the wind up over Lord Haw-Haw's recent boast
that Germany would very soon attack Dover Castle and the Naval
Station here by parachute. He's had the sentries doubled and in some
places trebled. Personally I think that it's only an empty rumour.
When I look round the defences here it seems an impossible task to
take this ruddy Castle. So please don't start worrying or I shall
wish I hadn't told you.
Who on earth told you there had been fighting near Dover?
Admittedly, as I mentioned in my last letter, extraordinary
precautions have been taken, even to the extent of issuing rifles to
soldiers, such as me, of ten days standing, but of actual fighting
there has been none at all.
Today's half-day is particularly welcome since we have, during the
last day or so, commenced rifle and artillery drill. I thought I was
pretty fit before I came into the Army but an eleven hour working
day, with breaks only for meals, just about knocks me up!
The eleven hours include 1 hour gymnasium, three hours squad drill, two hours rifle drill and one hour artillery drill. The rest is made up of meals, cleaning the barrack-room and lectures. The rifle, which weighs 11 pounds, is alright to carry about for five minutes, but after two hours of throwing it around most of us were wondering whether our arms were still in their sockets.
Artillery drill is the very devil. It's much more interesting than rifle drill but unfortunately, for some reason known only to the War Office, all work on artillery has to be done at the double! This wouldn't be so bad, but when I tell you that we have to do this in new Army boots, you can imagine what our feet are like!
Harry Jung, by the way, is essentially Oriental, with slant eyes and olive complexion. He and I are the only two in the barrack room who refrain from habitual swearing. Already we've had a couple of scraps, back to back, because we've been derided for not swearing. Of course, we just enjoyed that, and as Harry is a ju-jitsu expert, we made five of them feel a bit sorry they had ragged us. As a consequence of