State Auditors Go to War: Letters from Servicemen
The following is a letter from Sidney Hoffman "somewhere in England" to his coworkers at the State Audits Division in Salem:
(Please excuse delay)
(Mailed 11 Nov 1943)
7 November 1943
Somewhere in England
It’s been a long long time since I’ve written and “a lot of water has passed over the dam” and in this case a lot of water passed under the ship that brought me to my outfit here. I’ll try and review some of the events that have transpired to bring you up to date as far as I’m concerned.
We [boarded] the train at Ayer, Mass. In August and from then on I’ve been terribly busy. We went to a staging area in New Jersey for a short period. While there I managed to get into New York City fine time to see the sights. I took in Radio City Music Hall which the word “tremendous” immediately comes to my mind; the Empire State Building; and Leon & Eddy’s and Ubangi night clubs – at the latter Joe Lewis sat about three feet away. During the day time it was rush rush rush getting ready to leave. And then suddenly the big day came to move to the Port of Embarkation. We loaded our stuff on our backs & hiked to the train. You should have seen us. Just to give you an idea, I’ll enumerate a few of the things I had on & carried: wool uniform, field jacket, field coat, pistol belt with accessories, gas mask, helmet & [lier?], musette bag full of personal articles & raincoat, blanket roll, brief case, and the heaviest article of all my val-pack. I imagine all those items would weigh over a 100 pounds. I managed but the perspiration rolled off in torrents. After the train ride we had another short hike to the boat, a massive grey object. Before loading we consumed coffee and doughnuts furnished by the Red Cross. The coffee had cream in it but it tasted like a beverage “fit for kings.” On only one other occasion have I enjoyed coffee so much and that story comes a little later on (the Red Cross involved again). Well we got on board OK and to me it was not exciting at all. Walking up the gang plank I thot to myself “You should be excited as this is the real stuff” but I wasn’t phased. It just seemed that the inclined gangplank was just another obstacle to overcome. I guess I’ll reserve the “excited stuff” until I go down the gangplank on the return trip.
The trip across the Atlantic cannot be
told much. We had lots of work to do. I did learn one thing though. The
maps of the world don’t do the amount of water we saw justice. We arrived
on this side all safe & sound and loaded our backs again and took a short
hike to the British train. After unloading in the train the American Red
Cross came by with coffee, candy, gum & cigarettes. And this canteen cupful
of coffee was delicious! I should spell delicious with capital letters.
After a long train ride we arrived at our first station over here. At this place we went through a short training period in English currency and how a finance office operates in the ETO (European Theater of Operations). I saw several people there whom I knew in the States. Then we were ordered to this place to open up our own office which we did on Lincoln’s birthday. We have an excellent office but it took a tremendous amount of work to get it straightened up & cleaned out and organized. I’ll still have a few kinks to straighten out in procedures but in the main we are functioning smoothly. My money account is kept in the local branch of a bank located in London. Believe me, this is the life – spending someone else’s money. My only hope is that Uncle Sam doesn’t kick back any vouchers on me.
Our office is located a few blocks from the center of a fair sized city – somewhat larger than Salem – and in a very beautiful section of England. We are near enough to seaside resort towns to get there on days off – if there were any – so far I’ve had one day off since August but I have hopes – you’d think the boss could arrange to let himself off, wouldn’t you? But you don’t know the Army. Believe it or not but we have had five inspections since arriving here with another one coming up in a few days. I’ve done very well with the inspections so far getting “Excellent” on all but one and that one was “Superior”!
But to pass on to England itself. Over here they emphasize “tradition” but my reaction to a lot of it is “out of date”. Can you imagine meat laid out on a table in the open where dust & flies can get to it? Or warm beer? Or charging more for the seats in the cinema that are farthest from the screen? Or roads & streets that wind around & over the terrain? Or all the houses behind hedges or brick walls? Or the girls riding bicycles with their legs bare and
smoking cigarettes? Or two-tone hair
jobs (part dark and part bleached)? Or driving on the left side of the
road? Or trains with the aisle on one side
with compartments that you step into directly from the platform? Or calling a
drug store the “chemists” or a telephone booth a “kiosk”?
Or calling a flashlight a “torch”? Well all that in brief is
England. I could go on for hours. I really believe it is beautiful here – I
have never seen greener grass with nearly all the land in cultivation.
At the other place I stayed in a British home or “billet” as
the Army calls it. Each morning I would be awakened with a cup of tea
and a biscuit (cookie to you) and a pitcher of hot water to shave with.
The British are always eating. They have tea before breakfast, then breakfast,
then tea at ten, then lunch, then tea at four then dinner, then tea before
retiring at nite. You can sure get “teaed
up” over here and I don’t intend to pun as liquor is a scarce as “C” coupons
in the states. I believe Scotch is only about 50 proof and the beers are all
around 2%. But try & find Scotch! Of course, Bourbon, my favorite, is unheard
of. The bars and cocktail rooms rack up about 9:30 pm (2130 hours in the Army)
so you have to stumble your way home in the total darkness with the help of
a dimmed torch (the “stumbling” being do to the terrain and not
your condition). But I like it. I thoroly enjoy my work and what recreation
we have. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything in the world. I’m
running my “own show” here which gives you some feeling of accomplishing
something – that is, its my show except when the inspectors are here
or when following out the “directions” which arrive daily from
a dozen different headquarters.
I forgot to mention the rain in my previous paragraph on England. It almost rains daily and naturally everything is damp so the [damn] or rather damp cold goes right thru you to your bones. I’ve threaghtened (I really know how to spell but my fingers don’t) to put on longies several times but am still holding out.
Here’s an English joke: Two men met
in the street & one said “I hear they buried your wife the other
day.” The other one, “Yes, they
had to bury her. Dead, you know”. No comment.
I want to give the Red Cross another boost. They have Clubs over here in nearly every city where enlisted men can go and sleep for about 40¢ a nite and eat for about 20¢. In addition they hold free cinemas and dances every week, & have reading rooms and games also. These clubs are in former luxurious hotels. There are clubs for officers too with the prices about 10¢ higher. On my one day off over here I stayed in a seaside town that has been called the “Miami Beach” of England. It was wonderful to break away. This particular city where I visited was beautiful! – I’ve never seen anything like it. While strolling there in the park, a British band was playing a concert, children were wading in a shallow creek with a cement bottom, and soldiers & girls everywhere. My only regret was that my wife couldn’t be there.
Last Sunday we had a Turkey dinner (probably a “dry run” for Thanksgiving) and this Sunday – today – we had southern fried chicken but it was tuff. I enjoyed it however. We get a lot of Spam and the eggs are all of the new-fangled variety – in a box instead of shell and we have no milk to drink – just coffee & tea, & cocoa once in awhile. Don’t ever complain about food rationing as over here we think what we eat is good.
I’ve rambled on for about enough now so will wind this letter up with this thot for Seph: save a job for me that can be done with a fishing rod in one hand & a pencil in the other.
Regards to all,
Note new APO # of 649(1)