1940 London through a Canadian Soldier's Eyes
Created | Updated Jan 7, 2012
What follows is a transcript of a letter written on 21 December, 1940, by a Canadian soldier on a one-week leave in London. The recipients of the letter got it published in a Canadian newspaper that is, thus far, untraced. The date of publication is the 8, 18, or 28 of an unknown month in 1941.
This is the published version of that letter, which may contain some minor editorial changes introduced by that newspaper. Any reader with specific information regarding the exact date of publication and the specific newspaper is urged to contact the h2g2 editorial staff so they can pass the information along to the Researcher submitting this entry.
The original author of the letter, who died in 1973, was the father of the Researcher of this entry, who is that author's only child. Original spelling, grammar and punctuation have been retained.
Well, you Perrys1,
I'm trying again. How about writing a letter some Sunday afternoon? You know, just for the sake of something to do, or maybe, out of pity, or something. Honest, my mail is getting shorter and shorter, and it's all your fault.
Believe it or not, I'm on leave. After nearly a year I finally got seven days to myself. In London, at the Beaver Club, where you can get lots of things at reduced rates and some things free. London is a great place to get lost in. The streets run in a thousand different directions, from circuses and squares and things. It takes five minutes to walk from Trafalgar Square to Picadilly Circus. I've done it is less than half an hour. Sometimes I end up in the opposite end of town and sometimes right back at Trafalgar Square. The Beaver Club is just around the corner from the Square and I'm getting so I can pick the right corner nine times out of ten.
Went to Mme Tussaud's this morning. Just inside the door there's two girls selling books that explain the figures. I tried to get a book from one of them and the waxen brute just kept on staring at me. I went over to the other one and poked my thumb in her stomach, just to prove I was wise. She grunted. She claimed she was going to get a suit of armor. 'Those crazy Canadians are always poking and pinching me.'
Mme Tussaud's has just reopened after being bombed out, and is quite a bit reduced. The Chamber of Horrors in not so particularly horrible. Mostly figures of murderers, and what not. They look like people, same as other people. And speaking of bombs - the 'London Blitz' has been reduced quite a bit, too. I haven't heard a bomb whistle since we got back from the coast and I've been in the heart of London for the last four days. There's always the ach-ach splinters, though, and I don't mean shrapnel. The way people who should know better, go around calling shell splinters, 'shrapnel', hurts worse than a sour note on a violin. Even gunners do it.
It's fun asking people the way around here. They say, 'Strite dahn, beah left, tuhn right, beah right, and it's only a tuppny bus ride on number seventy-seven'. A 'tuppny' means two pennies. As a rule you get on a bus going the wrong way. You'd be surprised how North gets all twisted up with itself and ends up going West.
About the greatest sight in London is London Bridge, between eight and nine o'clock in the morning, when nearly a million people cross it on the way to work. For a good long hour the bridge is black with people, all just going one way and all going just as tight as they can step. Put them all in uniform and march them across, it would take the poor birds all day. There are some uniforms here, about half the men and a quarter of the women are in uniform. Every nation that ever had anything to do with the war, is represented, and some of the uniforms are a wonder to behold.
Yesterday I took a walk around the east end, where the tough guys come from, and a very small tough guy offered to show me around for a penny -(cash in advance, or no deal). He earned his money. I saw plenty. There were some places he told me about, but refused to show me at any price. He claimed they'd kill me for the pleasure of burning my uniform. As it was, he saved my three fights by lieing like a gentleman and saying I'd given his mother my money for his services as guide. All this in the middle of the afternoon, with the sun shining (for a change). I've got a date to take him to the Zoo this afternoon. He's never seen it. In fact, he's never been out of his own district, never seen a cow with hair on or a real live pig. And he never heard tell of camels or elephants or any foreign animal except monkeys and he thought they were home-grown. His name in Jimmy and he knows more and better swear words than I do. He's about twelve years old and about half the size of Gerald2, but boy is he tough! And proud of it. But he cried when I gave him six pence. That's a lot of wealth.
We're going to have a raid, the warning is going now. (A bomb went, too. Note nerves.) We're going to take the underground, because he's been on a bus before. And besides a bomb can't get down to the tubes. And there's proof that he's tough. He admits that he can't stand up to a bomb. It's about time I went after him, so I'll close down.
Don't forget, that I'm not supposed to do all the writing.
PS - Can you read my writing? I can. And think nothing of the disjointed way I write. That's the way I think.
PPS - The 'all clear' is going. The raid is over. Hurray, for the Air Force!
A Few Words About Fred Conway
Fred Conway was born in 1913 in Watertown, New York, where he lived until he was three. His parents were Canadian and from the age of three on, he was raised in Toronto, Canada. At the time, the United States allowed dual citizenship, which he had. His formal education went as far as grade nine, after which he went to work to help support his family.
He and his brother George enlisted in the Canadian military towards the beginning of Canadian involvement in World War II. By enlisting in the military of a country other than the United States, he forfeited his United States citizenship.
After the war, he applied for, and was granted, renewal of his United States citizenship. He married his childhood sweetheart, Norah Scott. Fred and Norah had one child - the Researcher of this Entry. They lived together in Rochester, New York until his death from brain cancer in 1973, at the age of 60.