My father Vernon Thomas was managing a Chevrolet dealership in Cambridge, Ohio, when World War II came along and he was sent overseas.
Hundreds, more likely thousands, of letters and cards must have passed back and forth between him and his friends and relatives in the United States during the 21 months he spent in India.
fewer than sixty of them. As it happens, all that have survived
were sent by my father during his first three months overseas.
Almost all were written to his wife, using the salutation
"Dearest Ann." Most were single-page V-Mails.
(For an explanation of that process of photographic reduction, click here.)
From the details in this relatively small sample of letters, we can get a feeling of what it must have been like in that time and place. Here are excerpts.
As an aid to navigating through this long article:
Thursday, 10 February 1944
[On this date, two days after arriving in the harbor of Bombay, Vernon disembarked from his ship. But wartime secrecy prevented him from revealing even what part of the world he was in. And, because he had been on the high seas, he hadn't heard from Ann in a month.]
Don't know just where you are by this time, but will assume you are home, as it is about time for Jim's furlough.
Can't tell you where I am, but may be able to in the near future.
Haven't suffered any from pulling details just a little sweeping or mopping or carrying of trash, never more than half an hour a day.
Chow is really good where I am now, and still no details. Purchased myself a supply of cigarettes for only 5¢ per package.
Sent you a cablegram yesterday, but no doubt you will know about it long before you receive this. Only cost 51¢, but as you can probably tell, it is a combination of three form phrases. Was hoping to get you a birthday greeting on your birthday [January 29], but that was impossible.
We were paid a partial payment yesterday in a foreign money, and with my reserve I have plenty. You know I got a $10 per month raise. Ha ha.
Am fine and dandy, only anxious to get some mail, and am about to run out of paper so will close for now.
With all my love,
Saturday, 12 February 1944
They are calling for the mail now, so will have to rush this up.
Feel fine and have an appetite like a horse, so I must be OK, eh?
[Vernon left Bombay by train at 8:45 that night. Traveling across India, he arrived at Camp Angus outside Calcutta on February 16. Here he would stay for several weeks awaiting his permanent assignment.]
Thursday, 17 February 1944
Well, I am now allowed to say that I am "somewhere in India." Am at a camp near one of the large cities.
Can say that we have been very lucky all the way along in respect to traveling accommodations, as it seems that we had the best available. Our food has been very good, and our only complaint is that we have not received mail yet, but then that is the Army for you.
There is sure a lot of difference in the way of life of the natives here and at home. It takes a rich man to own an automobile, and on the farms, they use oxen for power. Horses and buggies called "gherries" are very common in the cities; took a ride in one a few days ago.
Friday, 18 February 1944
You would be very interested in the way the natives do the laundry. I don't know what preparation is used other than water, but instead of rubbing the garment being washed, they beat it upon a smooth rock. It seems as though it would be very hard on the clothing, especially the buttons.
I had a suit of fatigues washed out, and the job was satisfactory. The cost was only 8¢, or to say it in Indian money, 4 annas. You or your mother would never hang anything on the line unless it was cleaner than my fatigues, but they are no doubt cleaner than they would have been had I done the job myself.
Don't know whether or not I have told you before, but your letters to me are not censored, so you can say anything you want to. [The next sentence was censored; it apparently mentioned an American newspaper or newsletter.] If the postage isn't too much, you might wrap an envelope around one and send it some day when there is some real news in it.
Of course, my letters to you are censored. But I can write about anything which does not reveal any military information, and you would not be interested in that anyway.
once, I think the enlisted men have the advantage over the officers
where quarters are concerned, as they are in a more crowded building
than we are. They are having to pay up for the advantages they
had on the trip, or I might say part of the trip, as during a part of
our journey we were just as comfortable as they were and ate the same
food, and they ate from their mess equipment and stood in the same
lines to wash their equipment as we did.
This is a very interesting country, and I would like to get to a library and read up on it. For instance, they don't believe in killing anything at all, not even an ant, as they believe they are the dead come back in another form. If an insect should get on their food, they would carefully remove it with a stick or something.
During the serving of one of our meals en route, there were large birds of the hawk variety swarming around like flies, and they were so unafraid that they even swooped down and took the food from the mess gear of several of the fellows, while the boys had their mess gear in their hands too. Their bravery, of course, is due to the fact that natives never harm them in any way.
Then they have the sacred cows, which are allowed to roam wherever they please and are even allowed to walk into a fruit and vegetable stand on the street and eat whatever they want. They are not like our cows but have an extra hump on their front shoulders. They also have cattle like ours which are raised here for meat and milk, but I understand the natives do not eat meat except lamb and then only on occasions.
They are all very thin people and mostly small. A few days ago we were talking to a small native boy who was going to school and could speak English (he was very proud of the fact). He was 12 years old and in the 4th grade, and he was no larger than most Americans at the age of seven or eight.
Have seen the natives carrying tremendous loads on their heads. They carry chickens in a circular basket. At one place where we had to move our barracks bags about the distance of four blocks, the natives carried them for us for 4¢; and there were small boys, even smaller than the bags and much lighter, who would carry them on their head. Of course, someone had to lift the bag up for them; but once it was on top of their head, they went into a trot.
The brooms which the natives use are merely a handful of broom-straw, about a yard long, tied together at one end for a handle and the other end left loose to sweep with. It is more of a brush than a broom.
At once place we were able to buy canned sardines, canned in the U.S., and I believe that is something you cannot do in the States. Have also had fresh tomatoes, but they don't taste as good as our American tomatoes. Oranges and bananas are plentiful, oranges at about 3¢ each and bananas at about 15¢ per dozen, but they were small ones. I nearly made myself sick eating so many of them you know how well I like them. The natives carry them around in large, shallow, circular baskets on top of their heads. About all they can say in English is "oranges and bananas, 8 annas dozen" or whatever price they want. But they can count OK.
In one city where we were, they tried to sell long-bladed knives. They started the price at about 2½ times their taking price. Quite a few of the fellows bought the knives, but I thought I had enough junk to tote around, so didn't get one. One of my buddies traded two packs of 5¢ cigarettes for a knife which was originally priced at $1.50. Of course, the native who sold it will undoubtedly make more on the cigarettes than he did on the knife. Cigarettes cost 75¢ a carton here, which is 7½¢ per pack, but they are rationed as is most everything else including beer (three cans every ten days).
Saw a picture show last night, Bob Hope in something, but you know me, I can never remember the name of a picture. Some of the fellows said it was about three years old; however, it was good entertainment. Was shown in an open-air theatre. Tonight we expect to go to another picture in a regular theatre. There is some sort of quota arrangement about going to the theatre which we expect to attend tonight, and we may get to go and maybe not.
Saturday, 19 February 1944
Went to another show last night. Saw Happy Go Lucky with Dick Powell and enjoyed it very much. Cost 16¢; we buy our tickets before we leave the camp, and the ticket is our pass out of camp. However, we can only go to a certain area adjacent to the camp called the "British Compound." There is just the theatre, a library, and billiard parlor and canteen which are available to troops, all other places being off limits. The compound is walled in and is mostly very large apartment buildings that are occupied by Englishmen. Had a glass of good cold lemonade and some cake at the canteen and walked around the grounds before the show.
The show was very long with two newsreels and several short subjects. Of course, the newsreels were old, but anyway they were new to us. There was one British newsreel, and one American which showed the President on a tour of the war production plants. They play the British national anthem "God Save the King" at the conclusion of the show, and all soldiers stand at attention.
Sunday, 20 February 1944
It got very cold here last night, and two blankets felt good. But I suppose you probably used four or more. The sun is bright, and it is again very warm when you come out from the shade.
[When Vernon left the States, Ann had been staying with her brother Ralph in Racine, Wisconsin. Her other brother Jim, shown here, had been scheduled for a furlough but would soon return to flying bombers out of England.]
Was wondering last night whether you had gone home or were still in Racine; also whether or not Ralph had been inducted. I sure hope he doesn't have to go.
Suppose Jimmie has had to return to duty by this time, and he may be catching up with me soon. Write him for me and tell him, if he ships out of the country, to get himself a bar of salt-water soap. Also to take along all the Brillo he has room for. Also to be sure to take some money along, as there are cases of months between paydays.
Monday, 21 February 1944
Am feeling fine. Getting plenty to eat and no work, so believe I am getting fat! Weighed myself a few days ago and am back up to 156 pounds.
Tuesday, 22 February 1944
Have a halfway promise from our barracks leader of a pass to town for tomorrow. They are good from 8:00 A.M. to 10:00 P.M., and as there are GI trucks going in frequently, will more than likely get a ride on one of them. The return trip is to be made by train.
If I do go in, I will probably see lots more to write about than I have the past few days.
Heard a British major give a lecture last night, but couldn't understand but about half of what he said. He had never before spoken before a mike, and as you know, the British aren't too easy to understand anyway. He was interesting, and I would liked to have heard it all.
Don't think I have told you before, but there are 10½ hours difference in time between here and New York, time here of course being the more advanced.
Wednesday, 23 February 1944:
Was supposed to get a pass into town for today, but for some unknown reason our passes were cancelled. Took another short hike and played a little softball today. Am about ready to go take a shower and wash out some more laundry. Don't believe I have told you, but the water in the showers isn't on until four o'clock but stays on till eight in the evening.
[Also on February 23, Vernon wrote to Ann's parents, Mr. and Mrs. H.G. Buckingham.]
Had a very comfortable and pleasant trip over here, and better still, a safe trip. Don't know yet just what they sent me here for, but it surely can't be much longer until I begin to find out.
The weather here is really warmer than we have back there during the summer, especially when you get out in the sun. In the shade it is very comfortable, and at nights we use one or two blankets.
Saturday, 26 February 1944
Finally got into town for several hours and enjoyed the trip very much. Hitched a ride on a GI truck which was going in, arriving in town at about 9:30.
First stop was the Red Cross club, which is very, very nice. As far as I know, it is the only club in this city for the American soldiers. Had a cold drink there called "lemon squash" which is very similar to a limeade.
Then went through the shopping district in what is called a "New Market," similar to an arcade in the U.S. There is everything on sale there, from meat and groceries to flashlights and umbrellas. Didn't even buy a thing, just looking. Had a very good time.
Then went on a bus tour sponsored by the Red Cross that cost 60¢. Saw the burning "Ghats" and a Hindu temple and a Sikh temple.
[For more on these sights, and on religion in India, click here.]
Arrived back at the Red Cross at 4:30; went to eat again, and then to the depot and back to the camp, then to bed.
Still no mail, but still have hopes.
Saturday, 26 February 1944
Have written you a little of my trip into town yesterday, but as it was a V-mail, I could not give many details. Will try to do better here.
Twenty of us rode in on a truck which was going into town for rations. It was a rough ride. My buddy and I rode in on different trucks, due to the lack of facilities, and met at the Red Cross club as per previous arrangements.
After refreshing ourselves with a cold drink, we proceeded to look around the town a bit and to kill time until 1:30, at which time the Red Cross tour started. There were three busloads of us.
We first took a drive through a park where we saw a very unusual tree and a few pretty flowers, but this being wintertime, we couldn't expect too much beauty. The park was very large and is being used by the government instead of as a park at the present time. Will draw you a picture of the tree. [Sketch censored.] Not much of an artist, eh?
From the park we came back into town and to one of the Hindu temples. (Have had to stop and apply anti-insect oil, which is the reason for the smears on this page, and must now stop as it is getting dark and we have no available lights. Will continue tomorrow.)
Sunday, 27 February 1944
Here is the news you have been waiting for, and I have been waiting for, ever so patiently! Last night at about 10:30 we had our first mail call since leaving the States. Sure was a large amount passed out. I received 40 letters. I sat up and read by lantern until nearly 2 o'clock, and then got up early this morning and re-read all the letters and arranged them according to date and made notes about things which you inquired. Will add several more pages to a letter I started yesterday afternoon, as there isn't room on one of these V-mail sheets! Was very, very, happy to hear, and have acknowledged receipt of the money from Ralph by cable.
[Vernon then resumed the letter he had started on Saturday.]
After I quit writing last night, I went over to the outdoor theatre and saw a very good stage show which consisted of specialty numbers, mostly by men in the service, but there were a few songs by some Red Cross women. All in all it was a very good evening's entertainment, after which we were served coffee and cookies and also had mail call, which sure put a happy climax to a perfect day.
Will now go back to my trip into town. After leaving the burning Ghats, we went to a Sikh temple. After this, we returned to the Red Cross club and went to a restaurant and had a steak dinner (T-bone for 75¢). Then we took a taxi to the depot where we caught a train back to camp at 7:40 P.M., arriving back at camp about one hour later. As our camp is some distance from the depot, we rode one of those bicycle contraptions built with three wheels, which will carry two passengers besides the fellow who pedals. It cost us 15¢ each.
Yesterday we were on detail improving the appearance of the camp, working on roads and the riverbank. It is similar to a W.P.A. project, only we don't lean on the shovels, we just sit down near them. Ha ha.
I believe that brings me up to the point where we received our mail. In all I received 40 pieces of mail, including Xmas cards from Hubert and Martha, Fred and Edith, Ralph, Aunt Mattie and Uncle Mort; also the receipt for payment of your insurance premium, a letter from your mother, three from my mother, and one from Charles Allen. The remainder were those written by you or forwarded by you.
Will first comment on the letters from Ma.
Am glad to know that Fred has bought himself a farm, but it is sure bad about Edith. However, I don't have much faith in that "little Freddie" rumor, as I believe that honor is going to be left up to me, ha ha, and no curly hair like you mentioned in one of your letters.
[Fred was one of Vernon's brothers. Another was Phil, shown here, who was in the Marines and had been wounded in the Pacific. Some details are in a letter from Ann; click here.]
Believe that Philip is very lucky to get back alive, and have hopes that they may be able to save his eye. No doubt he will be discharged; at least he won't go back on active duty for a long, long, time, and if he loses the eye, probably never.
Now to make a few comments and to answer a few of your questions.
You stated my location perfectly, as to where I went after I last saw you. And you were correct as to who I was running around with, Slobadin to be exact.
So far have not received the package which Mr. Sipe ordered sent to me, but know it must have been awfully nice to have come from that store. No doubt it will catch up to me eventually.
[Charles Sipe was Vernon's boss in civilian life, the Chevrolet dealer in Cambridge, Ohio. Auto dealers faced special challenges during the war, because the factories had stopped making new cars in order to build airplanes and tanks.]
Was glad to know that you had received the bond. You might cash it and buy yourself some clothes; and I do believe it will be a good idea, as it will be 60 days old by the time you receive this letter.
There will probably be only one more bond, as I understand (via rumor) they are going to cancel all $3.75 bond allotments or get permission to increase to $6.25. I don't think I'll consent to an increase. If you remember, I didn't intend taking out any allotment for bonds at all, but the pressure was on. They may do the same things all over again. And it might be an easy way for me to save some money, even though I feel capable of taking care of my own financial affairs without the aid of those high-pressure officers who are mainly interested in making a showing for themselves.
I don't seem to have much use for money over here. My trip into town cost only $3.00 for everything, and I don't care to go very often. And I have had a pay increase. So I may save $6.25 by buying bonds which I would otherwise throw away. I'll wait until the time comes, about three months from now, and see what the situation looks like.
Glad you had your teeth taken care of and wish I could get mine cleaned.
Now my next note calls for me to call your attention to a couple of fellows who have gone into the army whom you evidently didn't recognize [in the newspaper listing]. Namely, Freeman Scott, the crazy meat cutter's brother, who at one time worked at Chiesa's and also had a shop of his own; and then there is Paul Little, who I believe is John Little's son. Of course, with them being my friends, I recognize them.
And it will be six years tomorrow since I met you. I wonder how old that makes Cecil P. Don't fail to send him a birthday card, or haven't you forgiven him yet for getting you into a lot of trouble six years ago?
[When Vernon was newly arrived in Cambridge, Ann's cousin Cecil P. Gibson (shown here in 1966) was the one who introduced him to Ann. That introduction took place on Cecil's birthday on February 28, 1938.]
No doubt Jimmie will soon be joining me over on this side of the pond, but he will probably receive a rating and will also more than likely ride the skies over. He receives a 50% increase in pay for flying, in case he didn't tell you.
Dorothy will be better off financially with Billy Smith in the army than when he was out. Her check should be $100, if I remember the facts correctly, and that is probably much more than he made in two months.
I sure feel sorry for Aunt Mattie with all her troubles, but I guess she wouldn't be at all satisfied if she couldn't be fussing and fuming about something.
Well, this is a very long letter, so I had better stop now so that I can save something to write about later. If this should continue any farther, I would spoil you, and you would expect me to write eight pages per day, or week even. Ha ha.
Want to write Ma a letter, so will close here. Don't work too hard, if any, and keep the mail coming. Good job so far.
Monday, 28 February 1944
Yes, I remember that today is an anniversary. Just two years ago today, the automobile manufacturers stopped production of new cars. Ha ha. You thought I was going to say something about six years ago today, didn't you? Well, I mentioned that in my last letter, so it isn't necessary to repeat, I guess.
Tuesday, 29 February 1944
Yes, I think Dad got a good price for Fred's house. That will make a good payment on the farm.
Sure is nice that Philip got the additional time, and he must be feeling pretty good to play basketball.
Sure does seem funny for you to be talking about so much snow when it is so warm here. What a difference a few miles makes, eh? I noticed that the dipper which points out the North Star stands on its handle in this part of the world.
Wednesday, 1 March 1944
Had intended to go to town today but was put on Special Duty, working in the personnel department here at the camp. I should gain a little experience which some of the fellows gained during our five-month wait, as it is practically the same kind of work.
Saturday, 4 March 1944
Had baked beans, sliced tomatoes, and lemonade for chow tonight, and I really did enjoy it. Since chow, I have written Ma a V-mail while sitting here on the riverbank.
[The Ganges River at Calcutta is near the Bay of Bengal and is subject to tidal surges.]
One thing I haven't mentioned is the mud near the river, due to the river rising and falling each day. The water seems to vary about four or five feet during the rise and fall, but there is a tall embankment about 40 feet back from the river where we sit.
The weather is cooler today, and much nicer. When it is hot here, it is really hot.
Got another haircut and shave in the native shops here on the post and had a much better barber than my first trip, especially on the shaving end, as the first one who shaved me tried to dig them out instead of cut them off.
Nothing new but a lot of the usual rumors, so I will not repeat any of them.
Sunday, 5 March 1944
Today has sure been a day of rest for me, as I haven't done a thing except eat and sleep.
Several of the fellows were in town yesterday and attended the horse races. They won a little money too, by the way. They have races two days a week, Wednesdays and Saturdays, and I am going to try and get off to go in this coming Wednesday. The fellows seemed to have enjoyed them very much, and they say there are carried on somewhat similar to the races back there.
been another very nice day here, and I have again come to the
riverbank to sit for a while. I intend to go to church services
at seven o'clock, and I suppose I will then go back to bed and really
get caught up on my sleep. Have only been sleeping about nine
hours a day. Ha ha.
Monday, 6 March 1944
Will write a few lines describing the people here, as I don't think I have ever given you much of a description.
They are most all very thin and not very stockily built, dark-skinned like the Negro, and wear very little clothing. Some of the small children go about completely nude, and when they do wear something, it is usually just a sash wrapped around them.
They don't bother too much about using doors, as the windows are always open and they just climb in through them. They often use this means of getting aboard a streetcar or a train, too.
Soap being scarce here, the natives aren't too clean-looking, and can often be seen taking a bath with their clothes on, in a pond where the cattle or buffalo are also lying around.
Thursday, 9 March 1944
Have just finished chow of C rations, sliced tomatoes, peas, pears, bread and butter and cold water. Something cold is a real treat around here, as ice is made from water which has not been purified and cannot be safely used.
Saw in the local paper where they are shipping six bulls from the U.S. to India for the purpose of improving the grade of milk in this country. From the looks of the cows here, I think the stock needs some improvement.
Friday, 10 March 1944
Another warm day here, making me very glad that I am working inside and not out drilling, or on a hike or something like that.
Well, today is a kind of anniversary for me, as quite a few things have happened to me on the tenth of the month. It is my 11th anniversary, 7th and 2nd. Without mentioning them, I believe you can figure them all out. Maybe by the tenth of next month, I'll be at my permanent job working away, but then that may be wishful thinking.
Just returned from chow; there are six of us sitting here writing letters or reading. No doubt this kind of fooling around will cease once we get to our job which has been selected for us.
I might write some more letters, if I can decide just who is next. That is a hard question to decide, as I have no way of knowing who has written me up to now. If I wait and just answer their letters, I will soon be just writing and receiving about three times a year.
The rumors have it that the place where we go is much more comfortable than it is here, and they have both cold and warm running water. But of course, I won't know until I get there. Can't tell you much about where I'll go or when, but I do know the orders are out assigning me to a unit, and if the rumors are true, it is a good deal.
The show last night was a flop. I left after fifteen minutes of it and spent the evening on the riverbank.
Saturday, 11 March 1944
No mail again today, but that just makes more for another day. Sure hope you are receiving my mail to you with more regularity than I am receiving yours.
Sunday, 12 March 1944
I have shaved, bathed, and done my laundry in my helmet the reason being the crowded conditions and also the limited facilities. It really isn't near as bad to have to do it as it sounds.
You see a lot of real old-model cars here, such as Oaklands, Durants, etc. touring cars. I guess they really cost a lot of money over here when they were new. There are also modern cars, but they aren't very plentiful.
Monday, 13 March 1944
Have been working most all day for a change, and that suits me fine, as time goes so much faster when I am busy.
Went to church services last night, and as you might suspect, I also sat on the riverbank until time to go to bed.
Some of the fellows were playing cards on the bed next to mine, but they didn't bother me in the least. I went right to sleep with them talking and laughing within three feet of me. If anyone had ever told me I could do that, I would have thought they were crazy.
Nothing of any particular interest, only some of the fellows have their assignments and are gone. You have heard of the song "Wedding Bells Are Breaking Up That Old Gang Of Mine"? Well, it isn't "Wedding Bells" but shipping orders which do that in this part of the world.
Tuesday, 14 March 1944
Went to the show last night but saw very little of the main attraction, Melvyn Douglas, as the band and all the entertainers were just plain GI's. Douglas did come out on the stage and crack a few jokes; he entered a plea for all men gifted with acting ability to put it to use with the Special Services branch of the army, where he is a captain.
The show was very, very good, and those boys who go all over this country just to furnish entertainment to the other soldiers sure deserve a lot of credit. The program was mostly music by the band with some singing; also three or four skits, such as a GI putting on a strip-tease dance. Of course, there was one who imitated the dumb cluck, and he was really good.
Saturday, 18 March 1944
Another very warm day, and not a thing new to write about. Unless I tell you a secret, and if I did that, it would probably be censored out. Anyway, I'll put it in and see what happens.
Here it is. At last, I have found the perfect goldbricker's paradise.
Day before yesterday, I had some cold which didn't seem to get any better, so I went on sick call to get some medicine, and they sent me to the hospital, and I am still here. However, I am told I'll be released tomorrow morning.
I sure was a surprised little boy when they sent me to the hospital when I apparently only had a cold, but I find that I had a slight temperature. Sure never felt any better, other than just being aggravated with the cold in my head and the sniffling. Was a pleasure to find out what a mattress and a pillow felt like to sleep on, and even sheets. Have read everything in sight, and think now they will have to keep me here on account of my being too lazy to work. Or maybe they will choose the guardhouse. Ha ha.
Saturday, 18 March 1944
Don't look for any letters dated the 16th or 17th, for there won't be any, but I am making up for the difference today. It wasn't that I didn't feel like writing, but I didn't want to write that I was in the hospital. I thought they were going to release me this morning, and then I could tell you I "had been in" instead of "am in," see? But they keep you here until they are sure you are OK. That's the best policy, since manpower doesn't mean very much to the Army. One man in many millions can't make much difference whether he works or goldbricks.
Saturday, 18 March 1944
When I sat down to write you, I could hardly get started. Before I had half finished the page, I was nearly in the notion of tearing it up and waiting until I got in the mood. But I finally got through the first one; and I must be with writing like some people are with eating (eat with a growing appetite), as I have already written you two V-mails, and in addition have written one to Mr. and Mrs. Seigler and also one to Ma.
If my memory serves me correctly, today is Ma's birthday; but if my life depended on it, I couldn't say how old she was.
Which reminds me: When I went on sick call, of course they asked me a lot of questions, one of which was my age. When I told them , they would hardly believe it. One fellow said I could easily pass for 20. So this climate must be making me younger looking, as it used to be 25. Ha ha.
The doctor said that I may look 34 in civilian clothes but I sure didn't in what I had on. I was dressed in a pair of flannel pajamas. Can you picture that?
Saturday, 18 March 1944
Just in case this letter should reach you ahead of another one I wrote explaining why I am in the hospital, I'll give you the facts in a few words. Cold, sick call, slight fever, hospital, Thursday, leave tomorrow (I hope).
The only work I do is help sweep and mop the ward each morning. At meal time, I go to the mess hall and carry up a tray of food for the patients who aren't able to go to the mess hall. Chow here is much better than any I have ever eaten in the army, probably because they only have to prepare for a small number. Everything is real clean, and the beds are especially inviting after not seeing a mattress nor sheets for a few months.
Suppose three nights is all I will get though, as I am supposed to return to duty tomorrow. That suits me fine, as I am afraid that I will lay around here and maybe miss my shipment, if I haven't already. Am feeling fine and hardly any signs of the cold left.
Sunday, 19 March 1944
I really got into a writing mood yesterday afternoon, seven letters in all. So I was repaid today, receiving five: three from you, one from Ma, and one from Mr. Sipe.
From the way Sipe talks, he is going to have to put up a little fight with the draft board in order to have anyone left there at all. Max [Eubanks] is only deferred until July. As I have said several times before, if they would only use the men they now have to any degree of efficiency at all, they could even release a large percent of men with children and still have more manpower than they need.
Am very much afraid that I am spoiling you by writing as many letters to you as I do. But that isn't my idea. What I want to do is to get ahead, so that if and when I go to work and don't have time to write so often, you can just dig out some of my old letters and read them over and pretend you just received them. Ha ha.
You asked if I could tell you anything about my trip over. Well, we were told to be very careful about what we did say about our trip over and to not reveal any military information, so I decided about the best way was to not say anything at all. No doubt that six months after the trip they will permit us to talk more about it in our letters. Will wait and see.
Can you imagine me living as long as I have without ever going to a hospital, traveling halfway around the world, and then going in with a little head cold? Well, it sure happened, but I guess it doesn't pay to take any chances in this climate.
Returned to a duty status this morning, but of course, because it was Sunday, I did no work.
Will close now and head for the riverbank where, I hope, it is cooler.
Monday, 20 March 1944
Am still feeling fine, but due to having slept on sheets for a few nights, the blankets felt awfully warm last night. I didn't go to sleep very soon, but I did sleep OK once I went to sleep. Woke up real early, as usual, and had to pull a blanket over me. It sure is "good sleeping" about the time to get up every morning, but I guess that is only natural. Ha ha.
It will be two weeks Wednesday since I last went to town. I am awfully fed up with staying right here in camp for such a long time. I am not eligible for a pass due to being alerted for shipment, and it looks as though I will be as good a "sticker" here as I was at the place where I spent five months as a replacement.
I am going to try to break the monotony tonight by going to the
picture show at the nearby British Compound, even though I have no
idea what the picture will be. The main attraction is to merely
get out of camp and also to be able to get a good cold bottle of
Tuesday, 21 March 1944
There are eleven of the original bunch still around, and as usual it is the last of the alphabet. Don't mind staying here too much, as the work is pleasant and not a great deal of it, and the food is OK. And what my next place will be like is an unknown quantity, and also quality. Even at that, I am ready to move any day the word is given, and they sometimes move a person with only a few minutes notice.
You have no doubt already guessed that I know where I am going from here, but of course I can't tell you where. Have been told that those of us who are going to this particular place are getting a break, and I hope they are right; but I am not getting my hopes up, as I don't expect any breaks as long as I stay in the Army. However, I do have some hopes of not remaining a private for the duration plus six months.
Worked all morning on service records getting them in shape for the payroll, and suppose I worked too fast, as I finished up before I went to chow and now I have nothing to do this afternoon. However, the afternoon is young yet, and I may do a day's work yet before I leave here tonight. If I don't do any work, I will just write a few letters and do a little reading, if I can find some reading material.
Today starts a new ration period for us, so I will be able to buy myself three beers tonight. But as I intend going to the English compound to the show tonight, I will probably wait until tomorrow night to have the 3.2% beer. Have been very lucky in getting additional beer rations from some of the fellows who don't care for it. Have also been very lucky in getting it cooled as someone in our barracks, nearly every day, gets hold of some ice which is put in a 5-gallon can and a community ice cooler made out of it. We also use this for cooling our canteens of water and fruit juice.
Did not get to go over to the compound last night as I had planned. The barracks leader had forgotten to save me a ticket. So I am going tonight, if he doesn't forget again. Went to the show here in camp and left before it was over, as it was not very good and the building was very warm with the large crowd in attendance.
Got hold of some mimeographed Easter greetings and am sending one to Patsy and also one to Barbara.
Wednesday, 22 March 1944
Sure have not earned my salt today as I have only worked about twenty minutes all day. Attended a lecture this morning on the prevention of malaria.
You probably don't know it, but the only way malaria can be contracted is by being bitten by a mosquito which has the disease, and the mosquito must be a certain type and also must be the female. Proper use of the net makes the chances of getting the disease very slim, unless of course you go around without your shirt at night, or wear shorts at night, or do something else equally as simple. Of course, the diseased mosquitoes may be thicker other places than they are here, and in the jungles it probably isn't as easy to keep them down to as small numbers.
[It was not until 1946, after Vernon had returned to the United States, that he discovered that he had in fact contracted malaria while in India. He soon recovered, but because of this disability, he became a member of the Disabled American Veterans as well as the Veterans of Foreign Wars.]
This being the second day of spring, you folks are beginning to look forward to some nice weather, but here we are looking forward to some real hot weather. There are a few of the trees here that have shed their leaves for the winter, but as a whole, they are still green. Some of the trees have blooms which have a very good odor. Of course, I don't know their names.
In Mr. Sipe's letter a few days ago, it sounded as though the Chevrolet factory had resumed the production of trucks other than for the Army, and that they expected to start production of passenger cars in about 15 months. Sounds good to me.
Thursday, 23 March 1944
Made it two nights in a row going over to the English Compound theatre, and the show was very good: The Human Comedy with Mickey Rooney.
One of the fellows who I went over with went swimming, as they have a small swimming pool available for troops on certain days. I would probably have gone in too but thought I had better not take the chances of it reviving my cold. The boys didn't have suits, so they just went in with their [underwear] shorts on. After their swim, they took their shorts off and just put their clothes on without underwear.
Another thing very unusual happened last night. It became cloudy, and looked like rain, and actually did rain about 7:45. It didn't rain very long nor very hard, but it was enough to lay the dust and make a good night for sleeping.
I am probably sticking my neck out by typing this letter. I have been asked a few times if I could type, and I have always got out of it by saying that I was no good at it. (But if they could see this letter with all the errors in it, they would agree with me, eh what?)
Had some work to do this morning which lasted for about one and a half hours, and have worked at least 15 minutes this afternoon, so my day's work is about done, I suppose.
Didn't draw a complete blank this morning at mail call as I received one of your letters, there also being a card enclosed from your mother telling about Mrs. Hannah's ailments. So far, due to letters being missing in series or sequence, I don't have a complete picture of her trouble. From the latest letter dated March 3rd, I take it that she must be OK, as you mentioned she had a wallpaper cleaner coming.
Don't know anything new at all and don't think I will for a while. I can't go to town and see anything new, and everything here is pretty much the same day after day.
Haven't yet gone for my rations for this period, as all I really need is the beer. Ha ha. No doubt that job will take first priority on my evening. There shouldn't be such a long line tonight, as the early birds have already had two nights in which to make their purchases. The PX is open evenings from 6 to 8 only now. I believe I wrote you when I first arrived here that they were open from 4 to 8 but they changed their hours shortly thereafter.
done more reading today than I have work, and I believe I have also
spent more time writing letters than I have at actual work. Of
course, this is the slowest time in the month, as we will soon start
preparing the payrolls for the month of March. Which reminds me
that it just a week from tomorrow until payday. What will I do
with all that money? Ha ha. Must stop after that crack.
Friday, 24 March 1944
Received mail this morning, six letters in fact: four from you, and one from Ralph, and one from Aunt Patt. She is Dad's sister from Olmstead; if you remember, she was at Livermore with her daughter one time when we were there.
Was sure glad to hear that you have gained weight, as I believe you could have used a little more. Also, this mail call more or less settled the mystery about Mrs. Hannah's illness. Sure hope that she has recovered by now.
Went to the PX and got my beer last night and am glad I did, or I would not get it; the PX doesn't open until 6 o'clock this evening and I won't be around at that time. Am short of matches, so will have to buy a few lights. By conserving what I have, I can make out.
[The reason that Vernon wouldn't be around at 6:00 was that he was finally being sent to his permanent job at Chabua. He hurriedly advised his wife of his new address.]
Friday, 24 March 1944
Just a short note to tell you my new address is A.P.O. #629, c/o postmaster New York City. Please advise the Jeffersonian and the Outlook [newspapers] and anyone you think may write me. Write Ma, as I really don't have time now.
Will write more when I am settled, which may be several days.
Keep the mail coming.
all my love,
[The final letters that I have are dated more than three weeks later. One is addressed to Ann, the other two to her parents. In the final letter, Vernon's father-in-law Harry Buckingham, who worked in the coal delivery business, has just had gall bladder surgery, but Vernon's brother-in-law Ralph Buckingham has just visited from Wisconsin.]
Sunday, 16 April 1944
Dear In Laws:
Will try to write that long overdue letter which I owe you, although you have no doubt already heard, through Ann, about everything which I am likely to write about.
Have finally been assigned to a Finance Office and have finally decided that it is a very good branch of the army to be in, as I don't have to work very hard and it is work which I like.
My job is supposed to be in the administrative department, and most of my work is typing for the three officers in the office. In addition, I figure a payroll now and then and do most any job which a good office boy would do for me in civilian life.
The food continues to be good, and we even have chicken sometimes. Of course it is usually canned chicken, but it is really good and is much better than the regular army chow which I had to eat for so long and which I complained so much about.
About the only recreation which we have here is ping-pong and walking. I have just returned from a long walk and was "run in" by the bugs, which are certainly thick over in this part of the world.
The greatest hazard in the way of insects, of course, is the mosquito, and we have all kinds of ways to try to keep them away from us: the best way being the use of the net, which we never go to sleep without. We also have a repellant that can be put on like a lotion, which will keep them away from you while you are up and about. At night is the only time when they give you much trouble, as they hide in the day just as they do back home. The repellant is one of the big reasons why you can't get Prestone back there, as it is made by the company who make Prestone.
Sunday, 16 April 1944
Have just completed a nice long walk all by myself. I was only brought back at the time by the approaching darkness with the accompanying bugs and insects, which prove very annoying when walking after dark --- especially so during this cool, damp weather which we are now having.
It rained most all morning, but it quit about noon, although the sun has only shone for a very few minutes. Did not put on my boots and take the walk which I talked about in my first letter today; I found that the path leading back of the bungalow was not muddy and that the road in that direction was not muddy either, so I just kept on my regular GI shoes.
We had canned chicken for chow this evening, and it was very good. In addition, we had fruit cocktail and also lima beans and stewed tomatoes. The chow is sure good, and I sure do hope that we will stay on the per diem basis instead of having to start eating in a regular GI mess somewhere. The chances of having to change look rather slim to me, but you never can tell what the Army is likely to cook up.
I had a little urge to do some writing this afternoon and sat down and wrote two V-mail letters, but that was as far as I got. Will have to be more in the mood before writing to Ralph and Mr. Sipe as I want their letters to make good sense, and I have to be in the mood before I can write a letter which meets those requirements. Even then it is doubtful, don't you think?
Am certain now that it isn't advisable to subscribe to the daily or the weekly paper which I have coming. One of the fellows here in the office is a subscriber to the Cleveland Plain Dealer and he received one today, the first for several weeks, and it was dated 8 January. That is entirely too old to be of any use whatsoever. So I think you had just as well go down and cancel my subscription to the Jeffersonian and have it delivered to you instead. It is just that much mail space used up on old newspapers which might be used for letters. Goodness knows, letters are slow enough arriving without causing a bottleneck by jamming the mails with newspapers which are so old when they are received that they will probably never be read.
Well, it looks as though the paper is about to run out and I know I am, so I will close for this time and try to get some of the other letters on their way.
I wonder every day if you have gone to work and how you are feeling, if you are still gaining, and a lot of other things. But I suppose I will just have to wait until my time comes to get some mail before I know the answer. Keep sweet and don't work too hard.
Wednesday, 26 April 1944
Received word yesterday about the operation, or rather it was day before yesterday, and I sure hope it was successful and there isn't any ill effects at all by this time. Also heard about Emma's trip over to Dr. McCuskey and that he placed her on a diet. Sounds like too much worrying over something which will likely never happen to me. Sure hope the diet works and also that you follow the doctor's orders and slow down a bit.
No doubt the coal business will slow down some, at least the domestic end of the business, as warm weather should be just around the corner. Suppose everyone will fill up again this summer, which sounds like the sensible thing for them to do, even if Henry Ford does say the war will be over by 20 May. I can't say that I am quite that optimistic. However I am rather optimistic, but censorship regulations say that I must not try to predict the future, and I would no doubt miss my guess anyway. So I'll just hope H. Ford isn't too far wrong.
Have been doing real well at mail call for the past week, but it was about time, as I just lacked 3 or 4 days of going an entire month with just one letter. Now I am ahead of the parade, having received the most recent mail of anyone in the office. I have received two letters dated the 14th of April and that is real service. Sure wish I could get all my mail that soon, but of course that is impossible, and I think there must have been some special reason for it this time. Hope it happens that way often.
From the sound of Ann's letters, she must be getting along O.K. as she seems to be in good enough spirits, and I have read enough of her letters during the past few months that I think I can figure her out pretty well by the way she writes.
Really have the "garden spot" of India for our setup here, and as I imagine Ann has already told you about all that, I won't repeat.
Sure was nice that Ralph was able to get home for Easter. He told me of his plans in his letter written prior to his trip. Sure bet you folks were glad to see him. It seems to me that it has been an awfully long time since you saw him, or were you all up there last fall? I know you were planning something on going, but I sure can't remember whether or not you went. I sorta think you did, though. But even at that, that must have been six or seven months ago. Too bad, though, that you couldn't have seen the kids, but I guess one can't expect everything.
Well, guess I have about run down for this time. Don't either of you work too hard, and don't worry about me, as I am sure I'll be O.K. and home before Xmas 1946.