March 25, 2015

1941. Analyzing the War from London

Churchill the Irate Kewpie
Winston Churchill inspecting soldiers in 1941. Getty Images. (source)

February 14, 1941

Dear Folks,

I'm working a dull night trick—we haven't had any serious raids for more than a week nowand thought I'd take a few minutes out to drop a line. I'm buying myself another suit—a Harris tweed this time—and get the thing tomorrow. It's about time I got myself some clothesI haven't had a new suit since Denver.

I'm becoming acquainted with the city now and have found some of the most marvelous bars—they call them "pubs" over here. There is one called Blackfriar's that is more like a museum than a bar and all of them seem to have nothing but old world graciousness and gentility rubbed into the wood.

However, liquor is expensive—about forty cents for a good shot or scotch—and I'm not doing the drinking I did in New York. However, I manage to have my moments.

I've had some interesting assignments. I've been doing the food stories—trying to determine if there's a shortage. And I get to go out on a bombing run occasionally. Then I saw Churchill review some Americans in the British army—and he does look sort of like an irate kewpie. Then the Queen inspected some American gifts to destitute and bombed out children. She really is beautiful and looks a little like Mom—about the same size, maybe a little shorter. She has plenty on the ball and has a tradition of never having been upset by even the most embarrassing circumstances.

Some doubt is arising now whether Hitler really is going to try his invasion—although with all the warnings from the government to be prepared, you'd think the show was coming off tomorrow—and maybe it will have by the time you get this. However, everybody knows that something is in the air, even if it isn't German airplanes. That's one of the things that has everyone puzzled—why the Germans haven't been carrying on their night raids. They usually give us hell after the RAF—Royal Air Force—give them a particularly heavy dose of bombs. But even after the shelling of Ostend and Genoa and the bombing of Bremen and Hanover, there has not been a thing to speak of.

With the new moves in Bulgaria, many people think that the big move will be in the Balkans and that much of the Luftwaffe will be withdrawn from the invasion ports to that sector. But your guess is as good and maybe better than we people sitting over here, where the tendency is to be so close to the guns that you can't see the war.

It's sometimes a little difficult to realize that spring is almost here—the seasons come early in England. And especially hard when all the news from home, even the newspapers, are at least a month late. We just found out the other day who won the New Year's bowl games and all your letters set me back about thirty days. That's the reason they say Christmas lasts longer here than any place else in the world. I was receiving Christmas cards up until a fortnight ago. 

I've had some dates with a couple of English girls—one a publicity agent for a big hotel in town, the other with a girl who runs a restaurant and another with a dance instructor I ran into. They are no different from American girls—in fact I think they get a lot of tops from the American films since this product are practically the only ones worth seeing. Since all the show open about nine in the morning and close about seven, I don't get a chance to see many pictures but I've been going to several concerts on my Sunday day off.

As yet I've only worn my tin hat a half dozen times. When the antiaircraft guns are barraging overhead, they make you feel safe as hell for some reason. And they are good protection against falling shrapnel which sometimes is more of a menace to personal safety than bombs.

I talked over NBC to Washington the other night. It was off the record and not broadcast except for the National Press Club there. It surely sounded good to hear an American accent. There were several of us on the radio, a man from the NY Herald Tribune, the NY Times, and AP. Vichy correspondents also were hitched up on the chitchat and I told Washington to pass along a message to you but I don't know whether they did or not. We only answered a few questions and kidded back and forth so there was nothing important said.

I have to get back to work now—so take care of yourselves and let me know the gossip. What's Paul doing, anyway? I have a lot of letters to write and tell him I'll drop him one when I get around to it.


July 20, 1941

Dear Folks,

Have been keeping busy trying to keep busy with nothing much going on to speak of. Had an interesting session with Ambassador Winant the other night. We had a little trouble about a story which was withheld for security reasons, but which the embassy forgot to release. Winant seems to be a combination of backwoodsman and schoolboy—but a hell of a nice guy. Also met the First Lord of the Admiralty Alexander at a press conference, and he wasn't so impressive. Seemed to be sort of a word worker type.

The only people I have been afraid of—in connection with Britain's war effort thus far—have been the politicians. Just as in our government, federal and state, they too often think of votes or of personal achievement rather than consider their country. Britain cannot afford to have many of this type of man in high places right now. However, I don't think he is very prevalent here.

Newspapers and everyone else here are withholding judgment on the outcome of the Russo-German war. We all hope, of course, that Russia will win. But for the first time so far in the war, I think everyone is being sensibly realistic. After Norway, France, Greece, Crete, and Libya, everyone has learned that you can't talk an army to victory.

The Russians have done much more than anyone expected them to do—for which we are all thankful—but if they are defeated, then we in Britain will have the battle back on our hands. Consequently, we are hoping that Adolph will be pretty tired when he gets through. From what has happened so far, we know that he already is bruised.

I want to ask you again to be careful what you allow Jim Porter to put into his column from my letters. You gotta remember that the United Press reads these things too, and I don't want anything to appear in print that might be used against my integrity as a newspaperman. You have to be careful of those things these days. Tell Jim to be careful for me.

Went to a Fourth of July party given by Douglas Williams, head of the American division of the Ministry of Information, the other day. Life photographers were there making a "Life goes to a party" series—but I don't know whether I was included in the photos or not. It was a good show. Everyone had a grand time, and plenty of liquor flowed.

Since the pastime in this country is walking, I took one the other day with Ed Beattie, bureau chief here. We went across the Epsom Downs—really beautiful country. It seems in some places to be a carefully ordered and trimmed Ozarks. Walked about seven miles, more than I have in a long time. But it was worth it.

Have been shifted back to the office after a boring session at the Ministry of Information. Am now working a swing trick from noon to eight p.m. and sometimes from four until midnight. Not many interesting assignments kicking around. Met the Russian military commission when it came to town—then got a shock when I interviewed some injured firemen, a couple of whom had most of their faces burned off. Also interviewed some American nurses as you saw.

Off the record, I have been writing some pieces about the American industrial system for the Ministry of Information. They are merely definitive and descriptive stuff, and so far I have made about $40. Have two more on order now.

Heard from Carl Smight the other day. He didn't mention anything about being married to Alice Haldeman-Julius except to say that it might happen soon. He is now working for the Chicago Tribune, which is a promotion over the other job he had. One of my pals here was shifted to Africa, and another may be going to Iceland soon. I was hoping that I might get a shift to Moscow or something, but nothing is on the horizon yet.

That's about all for now. Can't think of much of anything else. Am feeling fine, and along with everyone else am getting a little bored. But we can usually depend upon Adolph to come up with something.