[Postmark partially illegible: FIELD POST OFFICE 644 ? ?? ?? ??]
[The outside of this ARMED FORCES AIR LETTER is stamped “R.A.F. CENSOR 224” and has been signed “RAStubbs P/O”. This is the first of Tony’s letters to be vetted by a censor. 423 Squadron was based in Oban, Scotland and Castle Archdale, Northern Ireland.]
#9 423 Squadron
Dec. 22. 1943.
Here I am, dreadfully late again. Things have been happening rather quickly lately leaving no time for anything else. Last week I went up to London on four days [sic] leave with Bill Johnston, my roommate. The second day when I went around to my favorite club they said that Peter [Mallam] was in town. I couldn’t locate him right then so about 3:00 I pushed off to call on Uncle Tom [Stubbs]. He was away somewhere so I went on to Uncle George’s [see note to letter #8, RAS431202b] and waited there till they, George and Meg, came back for tea. Who should arrive for tea also but Uncle Geoff and we had a very enjoyable time. Uncle George says I can stay there any time. He will give me a key and I can come in with the milk if I like. Then I rushed back to the club and there was a message there for Bill and I to meet Peter at a place called Xeniars [sic] Club. Well we had quite a party and finally got Peter on the last train for wherever he was going (to get his kit as he was transferred to some new unit.) Peter said he would be back the next day early which I didn’t believe (a man must sleep some time) but sure enough Bill and I were still sleeping when he wrapped [sic] on the door. So we had another party which lasted about three days. I never did get to see Uncle Tom, nor purchase Christmas cards for the relations and arrived back a day late, thus damn near missing this posting as my name was being called out on parade just about the time I was getting onto the train in London. Bill wasn’t on the draft so he wasn’t missed and I wouldn’t be either if Ken Reid hadn’t gone up to Scotland on a university short course over Christmas (which sounds a bit of a farce) as I was chosen to replace him.
However here I am in a Nissen hut, freezing at the moment despite my coal stove. However there may be advantages here. This country ought to have more in the way of meat and eggs. I have missed all the advanced flying training I expected and gone right to a squadron. Also very soon I shall be doing just the job [i. e. flying a Sunderland, presumably] I wanted all along.
I am pretty weary of writing at the moment because tonight I have written, I think, to all the relations, in lieu of the Christmas cards. All the letters will be late but that, at least, is not my fault. Use the address I have shown on t’other side. Your letters up to 6 inclusive have all arrived and also the Christmas parcel which is safely tucked away. Thank you very much.
I think Joyce Ford may have arrived while I was still at the last station but I am afraid I never saw here [sic]. Had lunch with Bob Knox in London at Mrs. Vincent Massey’s officers [sic] club. Bill Embreys [sic] name was on the register there as having been there only a few days before.
With love from
[R.A.F. CENSOR 224]
#10 423 Sqdn.
Jan 1 /44.
This is a bit late for your birthday but I am never quite sure of the date. Is it the ninth? Many happy returns anyway. [Tony’s brother Archie was born on January 29, 1912.]
I am getting accustomed to this place and it should be O.K. There is an awfully nice bunch of chaps here—very friendly and generous. It is quite a struggle to buy someone a drink because they are probably trying to get one for you. I have had lots of extra to eat too with everyone getting parcels from home. My cake was wonderful—fresh as the day it was baked. Anything in the food line is always welcome. If we don’t eat it in our huts at night it certainly comes in handy on the boat [i. e., the flying boat]. One thing I shall probably find irksome is compulsory P.T. three times a week. It is made compulsory by docking your leave if you miss any.
I still haven’t been off the station. Spent Christmas Eve and New Years at the mess drinking mostly but having the odd dance with the only Canadian girl here—a WAAF nurse. I had to get up horribly early this morning to raise the flag. The orderly officer had to go on a trip so I took his place. Fortunately I could go right back to bed. I should be doing my first ops trip within the next few days.
I hope Lorna Houblon is going to be alright. Had a letter from Anna today saying she had recovered consciousness. What happened to the naval officer. I suppose he was drunk and was thus unhurt.
Had a letter from Peter [Mallam] today. He has been transferred to the former DCORs [Duke of Connaught’s Own Rifles]. He says for me to keep out of London. Well I am forced to do that.
There is so much to learn on these kites I don’t know how I will ever become a captain. He is supposed to know every man’s job.
[Postmark: FIELD POST OFFICE 644 8 JA 10 44]
[R.A.F. CENSOR 224]
#11 423 Sqdn
Jan 8, 1943 [sic]
Your letters to 9 inclusive all received. I do hope you have got over the flu alright. What a bad time to have it—just at Christmas.
Oh yes, I can write direct to Dick and anyone over here can to me. All overseas mail probably goes to a central depot so writing direct to me would not speed it up. The sqdn. no. helps though, I should think.
Had a letter from Violet today. [Violet may have been a paternal aunt of Tony’s father. She died circa 1960.] She said my letter was the first news she had that I was over here. How come? She mentioned having received a parcel just at Christmas. By the way—no dried eggs for me if you should send some parcels. The boys probably wouldn’t no [sic] how to cook it and we get fresh eggs after a trip and also on Sunday morning. Canned fruit, fruit juice, cheese, cocoa, chewing gum, anything like that will be very welcome. I will need shaving cream in a couple of months (I suppose you will have difficulty getting it in tubes) but I have many months [sic] supply of razor blades yet. Am down to 150 cigs so I will probably owe most of my supply when the first lot comes.
I have joined a riding club here. It has a double virtue as riding counts as P.T. You have to bicycle out to the place so I will have to try and pick up a bike somewhere as it may not always be possible to borrow one. The horse I had was a wild beast—always trying to bite or kick the other horses or buck me off. I don’t want him again particularly. I don’t mind using an English Saddle so much but I do wish these horses would neck rein. It makes all the difference.
They have a hard time keeping our ante room (the living room in the mess) in good repair. There is a huge double sided fireplace in the centre of the room. On top, around the chimney, were Christmas trees up to the ceiling and last night some of the boys lit them (to test the fire extinguishers someone said). Well they worked but the ceiling is in an awful mess. Fortunately it is just a large Nissen so nothing much can happen.
I got Mary’s Christmas card O.K. She had almost, but not quite, picked one with the right aircraft.
I am afraid I overlooked sending a card to H. M. & Co. [Helliwell MacLachlan and Company, Tony’s employer in Vancouver.] But for a long time I have had one of the partners down on my list “to be written” so I will do that now.
With love from
[Postmark: FIELD POST OFFICE 644 8 JA 24 44]
[R.A.F. CENSOR 224]
#12 423 Sqdn Jan 20. 1944
A few days ago I made my first trip into town. We had set forth on bicycles meaning to go riding, but there were no horses so we went on in to town. It is just a village really but a quaint old place. We had a couple at the local followed up by a meal of steak and chips at the same spot. Quite a luxury. Then on to a restaurant where we had poached eggs on toast—a real treat. I must go into town more often.
I’ve had letters recently from all the relations except Uncle Tom [Stubbs] and also ones from Dad and Archie. Dad said I should have lunch in town with Aunt Daphne [Stubbs, half-sister of Tony’s father] sometime and oddly enough that is just what she suggested. In answer to one of Dad’s queries I would say her sister would remind me more of mine. Had a letter from Mrs. Mallam today and she said she was sending some cigs. I hope some come soon—I had to buy a packet today.
Bomb damage in London is not as apparent as I expected. Probably I didn’t see the bad areas and also perhaps lots that are outwardly O.K. have been gutted by fire. All damage is neatly cleared up so that the city as [sic] orderly, I suppose, as it ever did.
I don’t remember seeing any W.D. parades in London. I think she (Nancy Stiell) must have seen me where I was stationed. That would be quite likely.
I have just got a new batman and he seems to have forgotten to set my fire. There is no dry wood around so I have to do without until my man turns up. With the other man I always had to reset the fire before it would go but this was better than the present set up. Now that the [Kelowna] Couriers have starting [sic] coming in I don’t have to sacrifice old copies of Esquire to get it going either.
I expect to be here a long time. It is early to start calculating but I have just over 5% of my tour behind me anyway. I think most of the G.R. pilots that came in with me have mostly been posted to advanced flying units now.
We get some very poor shows here but I usually go because they don’t tell you what it is going to be and it is a change anyway. I am realizing now why Dick [Stubbs] had such trouble finding something to write about—one is rarely off the station and anything happening on the station is taboo.
With love from
[Postmark: FIELD POST OFFICE 644 8 FE 1 44]
[R.A.F. CENSOR 224]
#13 Jan 29. 1944
This is really the most hopeless place to be stationed from which to write letters. I haven’t the faintest idea what to put on this page. You see I haven’t been off the place since I last wrote. One reason for this is there is no bus service into town and it is usually difficult to borrow a bike. I cannot understand the lack of a bus, it seems criminal as we are so isolated. Certainly some reform is needed here, also in the choice of shows which are of the lowest calibre and in meals which are worse than Bournemouth although you can get steak or eggs anytime in town. Quite often we have E.N.S.A. concerts but these are hopeless, far below the standard of one concert put on by local talent. Every Friday we have a speech followed by discussion given by some well known person and these are good. Once we had Beverly Baxter here.
Fairly close is a town that the boys go to sometimes by getting up a party and chartering a taxi. You can order a meal ahead—the best there is—a couple of roast chicken or steak and get any liquor you want including champagne. I must get in on this sometime.
You ask about liquor rationing. Well there is none as we know it in Canada. Every bar has so many bottles a day and when that is gone—you’ve had it. I have never bought a bottle from a liquor store (called an off licence) but I think this is difficult because they don’t get much and usually keep their supplies for regular customers.
I haven’t heard from Dick [Stubbs], other than a card, since I saw him so you must know more about what he is doing than I. He hasn’t answered my letter. Heard from Peter [Mallam] today though. He has been up in London again—just passing through (again.) Had a letter from a girl I met in London and she had seen Peter and I think he must have been a little longer in London than his letter seemed to indicate.
By all means take over my brown hat. Don’t call it old though—it was also my newest.
I have taken up quite enthusiastically one quite typically English game, that of push penny. Sounds silly doesn’t it but it whiles away the time before and after meals.
I went for quite a stretch without much sleep not long ago—about 43 hrs with about six hours after the first 26. I tried to catch the odd nap at various times but never was down long enough to get any sleep. I wouldn’t want to do it again.
The instructor I had at Summerside who the whole class liked so much has just been posted to this station. I was very surprised as he had last said that he thought there was no chance of his getting posted back to England again. He flew over and wonders when his trunks will ever catch up to him.
It is just about time to stoke up the fire and crawl into bed.
Yours truly, Tony
[Postmark: FIELD POST OFFICE 644 8 FE 15 44]
[R.A.F. CENSOR 224]
#14 423 Sqdn. R.C.A.F.
Feb 13. 1943 [sic]
I have received letters from all of you within the last few days. Thank you for your birthday greetings. [Tony was born on February 10, 1914.] I am going to send the dividend cheque back [see RAS440220] because I certainly do have a bank account with quite a nice balance in it. I don’t no [sic] what the bank manager meant by saying I hadn’t one.
I had a card from B. C. House recently saying an order had come through for my cigs so I hope I won’t have to wait long now. I wonder if you could increase the order because I have been given 125 in additions to countless numbers I have taken individually. Everybody is very generous with their cigs and of course the English here can’t get them like we can. Also we smoke a lot when we are flying.
One day our crew had photographs of each of us taken in various positions in the aircraft. They are for the war records I suppose but I will try and get copies. Later on I might be able to give you the necessary details to write to Ottawa to get them yourself.
My leave is going to start on March 7 I think. For a while I thought I was going to spend a short time close to where Rex and Bobo used to live but these plans have had to fall through. What a pity.
By the way, Dad, you don’t have to worry about my finances. I have never been in a more sound financial position. Also I spend practically nothing while at the station. My January mess bill was only 19/
My batman is getting some eggs for me and then I will be able to take one over to the mess and have it cooked for breakfast daily. The only catch is I have to be over a little earlier, that is by 0820 but it is well worth it.
Last week I visited a town I hadn’t seen before. We got there by truck in two stages, there being no system of transport at this station. It was a fair sized town, I suppose, but we only stayed long enough to buy shoes before catching a bus to the local village where the steak and eggs are so famous.
Mary, I don’t think the squadron number on the “Readers Digest” would make a good deal of diff. Probably all it does is to save the postal depot looking up where I am. I think I have had only one “Digest” since being over here though.
We had quite a treat yesterday—oranges on sale in the mess. I have seen a lot in the papers recently about oranges originally intended for civilians that were diverted to the troops so I guess these are some. I am sure there [sic] need is greater.
With love from
[R.A.F. CENSOR 224]
#16 423 Sqdn.
March 1, 1944.
This is my last letter before going on leave on the 7th so the next one should have more to write about. I have received all letters up to your #16 inc. #15 was addressed to 243 Sqdn but this did not seem to slow it up at all.
My parcel arrived last week and there is not much left of it. The oranges were in perfect shape, just as fresh as when they left I should think. They were far far superior to the Spanish ones I bought which are not so sweet but full of pips. The waistcoat is very nice. Oddly, my skipper had an identical one sent to him about a month ago. He wears it all the time when flying over his battle dress. Still no cigarettes. When I get to London I will check with B. C. House. I have been given 100 by my roommate which has kept me going.
I was up all last night spending the time on what in peace time would be a very classy pleasure yacht: something like the Llaird [sic] of Fintry used to have. However I slept until tea time so I am pretty well caught up.
I am sure the Mallams must have heard from Peter by now. He is still around and is going to try and get a 48 to meet me in London.
I haven’t done any riding for a long time now, I don’t know whether this is a riding part of the country. It certainly isn’t now but it may of [sic] been: it is suitable, very similar to Glos.
You are probably right as to the branch Red Pettigrew is in. That is where practically every one of them got to.
No Couriers have arrived for some time, however I will watch for the Feb. 17th issue as Dad suggests. [see below]
London has been getting a few raids lately and I wonder whether I will be in any. Peter was there for a couple of the recent ones. Uncle Geoff [Freer] says that they didn’t bother Uncle George a bit except for his concern about the servants.
With love from
[The front page of the Kelowna Courier for February 17, 1944 has a photograph of a man in uniform captioned as follows: “Flt. Sgt. Gordon James Munro, son of Mr. and Mrs. W. J. Munro, who is reported missing after bombing operations with the Royal Air Force. He was navigator of a Lancaster which failed to return on January 28 last.”]
[Postmark: ARMY POST OFFICE SC2 2? MAR 44]
#17 March 20, 1943 [sic]
Well this letter should be all about my leave and I am afraid it can’t. You see I must have ate something that didn’t agree with me which gave me something like dysentery but with no temperature rise. It really started two days before my leave and I didn’t surrender for a week. Now I have been in hospital a week and have just about recovered. If I get out in two days, as I should, I should be just in time to catch the train back to the station with the rest of the crew. Some holiday—I suppose I could get more but then I’d have no crew when I got back probably as I should have been replaced.
Travelling is usually considered rather a trial but I came down in a first class sleeper which was very luxurious. Something like a compartment on a Canadian train but better. It was air conditioned, and with a bed far more comfortable than that to which I have been accustomed. Tea in bed in the morning was the final touch.
In London I stayed at the Cumberland Hotel, Marble Arch which must be as comfortable as any in town. It is very modern, just like any good C. N. R. hotel with private bathrooms for every room. But unlike all Canadian hotels it has many good bars scattered around.
At B. C. House I found out that my first lot of cigs had arrived some time ago and had been sent to the wrong squadron. They gave me 50 as a consolation prize and they should come in regularly now.
As soon as I arrived in town I had lunch at Mrs. Masseys Officers Club; primarily to see if there were any names on the register I might recognise. There weren’t so I then called on Bob Knox and he told me that Bob Willis and also Cally McLaren were in town and Rick Benmore had just left. Willis was at Knox’s place so I started out for his place. On the way I called in at my usual club and heard that Peter [Mallam] was in town finishing up a 9-day leave. I left a note for him and then went to see Bob. Later on I caught up with Peter and we made a night of it—first of all to another club until it closed and then to a dance until about three. This semi private club where we were dancing had no cover charge but was very expensive. £3-10 for a bottle of gin I think. I spent most of the next two days with Peter and then he returned to his unit. He wanted me to come down for a day the following week and see what it was like to ride in a tank but of course I couldn’t. The next day (Sat.) I went to the Air Force doc who gave me some medicine which didn’t help much and I moved in here on Monday. On Sunday I walked up to Madame Taussauds and then to Mrs. Massey near Trav. ≤. [sic] so I am learning a bit about London. At Mrs. Masseys I met a captain (a doctor) who was at university with me. In the afternoon we looked in at a tea dance at the Overseas Club and one at the Grosvenor, both for officers, and then walked up to my hotel where we had supper.
I’ve now got to write a few explanatory letters, such as to Uncle Geoff [Freer] who must be wondering where I am.
With love from
[Postmark: ARMY POST OFFICE SC2 2? MAR 44]
#18 March 21, 1944
I will be back in London tomorrow, just in time to meet up with the crew before returning to the station. I don’t know whether to go with them or not. I was certainly busy the last week. Twice I was up all night on the flare path. There always has to be an officer on this to shoulder responsibility if anything goes wrong. Usually it is quite straight forward but once I had a lot of kites come back from a nav exercise all about the same time and these added to some kites doing circuits and bumps gave me a busy time. It is awfully difficult to decide when it is worthwhile to change the direction of the f. path. This takes rather a long time and by the time you are through the wind is probably back to where it started.
I wonder, when you are sailing, if you ever had any trouble picking up the moorings. If so you will have some idea of my difficulties particularly if there is not much wind. It comes with practice though.
This place I am in is always very effectively blacked out and yet every time there is an alert all the lights are switched off. It seems rather stupid to me. One night we could hear aircraft of both sides stooging around and also the noise of the ack-ack.
I have met two people here who where [sic] at university when I was. Interesting chaps these—one a war correspondent who was in on the first landing at Sicily and then on to Italy. I think he has a touch of malaria.
If I am fortunate and do work my way up to getting a chance at a captain course, such would be at Pat. Bay I imagine.
I wonder if I will be able to meet up with Dick [Stubbs] in London. Last time I saw him he said he had been in Iceland some years ago which was news to me.
Yours truly, Tony.
[Postmark: FIELD POST OFFICE 644 8 MR 30 44]
[R.A.F. CENSOR 224]
#19 March 27. 1944.
I am writing this on the train which I know already is going to be very difficult. I managed to get a sleeper again but it doesn’t seem to be very smooth. I got back into London last Wed. and met my skipper who went back to the station the next day. I wired for 4 extra days and got them. The other pilot had been recalled from leave being posted back to Canada on a captain’s course. In the afternoon I went to call on Uncle Tom [Stubbs] and of course found he had died about six weeks ago. This was a shock because I had not realized from your letters how ill he had been. Daphne told me more about it later. In the evening I went to my club until it closed at 11:00. I have got to know most of the people who usually go there now so it always provides entertainment when there is nothing special to do. The only thing of major import the next day was going to see “For Whom The Bell Tolls”. This was really good all through and not spoilt by having read the book. Next day Daphne took me to lunch. She is very nice indeed and we had a thoroughly good time. We met at Claridges but all tables were booked so we finally lunched at the Ritz. Before that though we met a Dereck Seebohm (who owns Puzzle Cottage) at his club, the Lansdowne and had a few drinks and then all went to lunch. Then Daphne and I went to a show, tea at the Ritz and back to the Lansdowne. Seebohm was through the Okanagan about 1924 but has forgotten most of it except climbing Little White Mtn. I can go and stay at his place anytime I am on leave which is only a stones [sic] throw from Puzzle Cottage.
On the next day I met Capt. Allan Mackenzie at Mrs. Masseys [sic] for lunch just by chance and we arranged an evening. Then I went off to see “Arsenic and Old Lace” which was good (of course it had to be after running for two years). I had supper with Allan and some doctor friends of his (they had all been taking a course in London) and some WREN officers whom we then took dancing at an officers [sic] clubaround Berkley Square. As the dance proceeded the crowd thinned out very quickly. We found out why later when we tried to get a taxi. After a long walk we caught one though. Peter [Mallam] had come up that night and next morning he had breakfast in my room and we had a long talk which we never had got the chance to do the time before. It was Sunday and an absolutely wizard day, surely as warm as a summers [sic] day. We collected some girls we knew and took them to lunch and spent the afternoon in the sun in Hyde Park along with the rest of the population of London. Afterwards we all went back to the club for the evening. I have never yet known anyone to catch a train from this place and Peter is usually the worst at it so he had to take the milk train about 4:30 this morning. He had been up the Sunday before and each time he says it will be his last opportunity to get up so there is always a farewell session for him. It is like the old story of crying “Wolf, wolf” but this time it does look more definite as he has to turn in his surplus kit such as his walking out uniform now. How many times has the train stopped while I have been writing. Love from Tony.